“Open” has taken the tech world by storm and Open-“anything” seems to be the synonym to innovation in the” anything “ area. In this context (or trend), an interesting piece about open-design business strategies was published on Bloomberg Businessweek site some while back. Its authors, Roland Harwood and David Simoes-Brown, are enthusiastic proponents of the idea that “organizations that embrace “open” will innovate better, cheaper and faster”. In presenting key issues of open-design, they discuss the implementation of “IP airlocks” to tackle the fact that “too often, IP regimes can be counterproductive, adding time and other costs into the equation and focusing participants on ownership rather than partnership.” The airlock is described as “an open-innovation competition, where companies invite ideas in response to a clearly defined brief. Brokers—whom we call "trusted agents"—represent both the customer (usually a multinational company) and the innovation community. For a specific period of time, innovators respond to the brief, knowing their ideas are safe from being co-opted by the client, with whom ideas are not shared until the end of the process. At this point, developed propositions are presented to the client, which has a fixed time period—typically three months—to decide whether to proceed. If not, innovators are free to take their propositions elsewhere.”
The authors correctly point out the potential business value of the interdependence between organizations and their network of associates and, most notably, clients, stressing the benefits of this relationship for innovation. They also emphasize the social and business advantages in creating and maintaining a spirit of collaboration and community within such networks.Of course, crowd-sourcing is not without foes. Its drawbacks are said to include added costs, possible failure for lack of monetary motivation, or participation, lack of legal certainty or even difficulties in maintaining “working” relationships. The article leaves am anti-IP aftertaste, based on the (I think erroneous) assumption that the open-“anything” presupposes collaboration while “proprietary-anything” excludes it. Perhaps this debate is somewhat misplaced. I mean that IP airlocks seem to be a useful instrument, but they presuppose IP rights and appear to be (yet another) scheme for protection rather than deviation from the IP regime. Additionally, networking with one’s client’s is self-evidently beneficiary and a crowd-sourcing project may also prove to be a powerful marketing tool, attracting consumers and strengthening business (or even social) ties. But the road from a collaborative project to a business modus operandi appears to be a (very) long one, at least in my mind. The question whether an open or proprietary business strategy is more suited for innovation may be misleading. I would think that it would be the field of the innovation exercise, with its particular bumps and pitfalls, that would point to the appropriate strategy".
NESTA use the idea of ‘IP airlocks’ (though not by that name) to help fledgling entrepreneurs/innovators. Check out their Annual Reports for the last couple of years. It might be interesting to suggest to Nikos to contact them to see what their experience of them has been, and maybe some of the users for an objective view! Or maybe throw it open to the IP Finance community to see if they have views.
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