We have all heard of open source software but what about open innovation? The concept has been around for a while but will it eventually replace the established intellectual property (IP) system?

The theory is that companies and institutions collaborate on large scale, e.g. infrastructure, projects without the barriers of traditional IP, e.g. patents, to deliver results that may otherwise be hampered by such IP rights. All well and good, but, as acknowledged by the author of the below article, innovation is a risky business. This therefore begs the question of who is going to buy into the concept of open innovation if the reward of securing IP rights to the developments surrendered?

Traditionally, the argument in favour of the intellectual property system is that it provides a reward (in the form of a monopoly right) for the investment put into the innovation. Yes, it has been acknowledged that patent “thickets”, where there is a large amount of patenting in a particular area of technology, may stifle innovation owing to the proliferation of overlapping rights leaving it unclear as to who owns what. However this has generally been dealt with by introducing standards and FRAND licensing to allow access to IP that can be used for essential technology, e.g. in mobile telephones and networks.

However, if innovation is seen as the use of the technology that has been developed (and possibly protected) from an invention, then actually the two may complement each other. Thus, with the appropriate licence agreements in place, thus giving commercial security to the parties involved, collaboration may proceed while respecting the IP rights.


“Invention is the creation of a technology or method. Innovation concerns the use of that technology or method to create value. The agile approaches needed for open innovation 2.0 conflict with the ‘command and control’ organizations of the industrial age (see ‘How innovation modes have evolved’). Institutional or societal cultures can inhibit user and citizen involvement. Intellectual-property (IP) models may inhibit collaboration. Government funders can stifle the emergence of ideas by requiring that detailed descriptions of proposed work are specified before research can begin. Measures of success, such as citations, discount innovation and impact. Policymaking lags behind the market place.”