In order to first understand the differences between open source development and intellectual property development, there must be context for the basis of comparison. The lens through which we will analyze these two methodologies is the concepts of innovation and product development. To get a better understanding of OSD’s and IP’s value in this category, I will first explain a little about what innovation and product development truly is and means.
A common misconception is the belief that innovation is equivalent to invention. Innovation is more than a new idea. Innovation is the process that develops a new idea and puts it to practice. Not all inventions become innovations. The key mark of an innovation is its ability to go to market and become profitable and commercial. At the end of the day, the main goal of innovation is to make money and create value.
The root of innovation is knowledge. Knowledge is ultimately what drives innovation and allows change to occur. Knowledge and the learning of new information is how humanity is able to advance and improve. However, within this idea of knowledge-driven innovation, comes the contrast between OSD and IP strategies.
Intellectual Property Development (IP)
– To get an idea up and running is one of the hardest parts. Thankfully, intellectual property often proves to be useful by providing tools such as trade secrets to keep valuable company information confidential. SMEs will often use trade secrets when they do not have the time and resources to get a full patent.
– The second strength of IP comes during the funding phase. Often times, intellectual property can be considered the “lifeline” of a product in times of crisis. What protects the idea from being stolen by others, and investors interested, is often the security of having the idea backed by a patent. Sometimes the biggest resource a company has, is simply the resource of “existing” and having a small IP advantage over its competitors.
– The third strength of IP comes in the research and development phase. Intellectual property gives the inventor time and rights to gather the information and resources he needs to make the idea commercial. Often times patent documents can provide a lot of useful information for SMEs to get to the marketing phase.
– Lastly, intellectual property has strength in its ability to gain profit. By locking down ownership over an idea, the profits and monetary value of that product, if it is successfully able to be commercialized, are concentrated and directed at the IP owner. A prime example of this was displayed by African farmers who were able to create an app for irrigation and make monetary profit through the protection of IP.
Open Source Development (OSD)
– Open source development is extremely effective at getting an idea up and running. Because ideas are shared and readily available, people who have passion for that particular idea can commit their time and resources to perfecting the product. Often times it is said that dedicated amateurs make OSD run most effectively.
– In a similar fashion, in open source development, resources are shared, whether financial or intellectual. If one person is able to provide finance to the development of an innovation, everyone reaps the benefit of that contribution. Thus financial difficulties can also be overcome by OSD.
– Perhaps the biggest strength of OSD comes in the research and development phase. Since open source development has a multitude of ideas and people contributing to a single project, a variety of models can be created. Open source development doesn’t get restricted to one idea, one way, as does IP development. OSD often has greater customization and facilitation of new ideas.
– Open source development still allows profitable innovation. As stated before, the greater variety as well as the dedication of its contributors can make for revolutionary, innovative products. But OSD also goes a step forward by providing another form of profit: social utility. Many open source products make communities better places to live, rather than solely focusing on raw income.
In my opinion, OSD is superior to IP development primarily for the last point. I believe that for the most part, OSD can equally match what IP can do. Open source development has a stable model with passionate and intelligent individuals working for the cause. This lends itself to the creation of truly innovative and unique products. However, the one downside of open source development may be its lack of profitability. I believe that the commercialization power of OSD is not as strong as IP because in intellectual property, a truly revolutionary idea can block out competitors in a way that OSD cannot. If a company takes advantage of this, they can truly make large profits by monopolizing a market. OSD can still make profit, but its biggest profit may be in its social contribution as stated above. This leads me to my over-arching conclusion:
Open source development can match intellectual property in every development phase (Initiation, R&D, “Valley of Death”, marketing) and provide more, through its significant social impact as exemplified through recent advances such as scientific research OSD. However, this is solely dependent on the fact that humanity truly is altruistic and people truly do care about making the world a better place overall. If the converse is true, (people are solely after their self-interest and profit), then IP is more useful for making the most commercial gain.