The Standards Blog

Now Available as a Free Download: Research on Open Innovation

Open Source/Open Standards

It would be easy, and even no surprise, to spend a year in Washington, D.C. and never hear the word "open" used during a high level policy discussion. That wasn't as true at the beginning of the first term of President Obama, when open source software and open data were mentioned frequently on the White House web site, at least. But that was then, and this is now.

It's quite the opposite in Europe, where all things open (standards, source code, data and research) have been the subject of lively discussion and incorporation into core policy goals and directives. Nor has that happened by coincidence.

There are a variety of causes, including the need to break down trade barriers between the constituent nations of the European Union (open standards are an essential tool to accomplish this goal), the dominance of U.S. companies in the IT arena (open source is helpful to level proprietary playing fields), and a desire to show the value of government (collecting data is expensive, and sharing it leverages the investment).

But it's also because there are many citizens that are passionate about openness in the EU. That means that there are people who can not only help their elected representatives understand the value of openness, but also hold them accountable if they fall short of their commitments. One such organization is called OpenForum Europe, which is supported by contributions from IBM, Google, Oracle, Deloitte and RedHat. It has provided valuable input to the leadership in Europe, often at the invitation of the policymakers in charge. 

Further to that effort, OFE formed a new affiliate several years ago, called the OpenForum Academy, and invited me to become one of its (now) 40-plus Fellows, almost all of whom are European professors, journalists and thought leaders. What they all have in common is that they all believe in openness, and they all spend meaningful amounts of time writing about it.

This week, OpenAcademy Europe released its third collection of articles by its Fellows. Not surprisingly, you can download the book for free, and in order to help you decide whether that's what you'd like to do, you can find my introduction to the volume below.  I hope it inspires you to read the rest of the collection, and to find out about OpenForum Europe and the OpenForum Academy as well. You can find the extensive OpenForum Academy library of free download books, articles and papers here.

An Introduction to Research on Open Innovation

Once upon a time, the learned of the world willingly shared Great Ideas and discoveries among themselves, both nationally in scientific societies, and internationally through letters, often composed in Latin, the lingua franca of the recently enlightened Europe of that time. The resulting advancement in a broad range of scientific disciplines was prodigious, reaping enormous benefits we still enjoy today.

Or, at least, that’s how the idealized version goes, and in fact much invaluable information was shared one-on-one among the great theoreticians and investigators of the time. But this was also the age of the Guilds, which jealously guided their knowledge, and later on of the era in which Darwin sat on his revolutionary theories for decades. He was only startled into expedited disclosure when he received a letter from a young species collector named Alfred Russel Wallace, who was seeking the great man’s opinion of Wallace’s more high level, but otherwise consistent theory of evolution.

In truth, there has always been a tension between the making of a discovery and the where, when and how of its sharing. Sometimes brilliant innovations are kept secret, and used for the sole commercial benefit of their discoverers. Other times their description in a respected, peer-reviewed publication is the ultimate goal. And in many cases the sharing of the discovery is only allowed to occur after it has been protected as completely as possible under patent law – a slow and time-consuming process.  The result in each case is that the advance of knowledge and the benefits for society that can follow materialize in a jerky, delayed fashion.

And yet in virtually every case discoveries are based upon the prior revelations of others – as Newton graciously phrased it, discerned only because the discoverer stood on the shoulders of the giants that came before. But what if all research, all experimental results, and all theories, were exposed to the world immediately?

The enormous benefits that such a practice could provide are almost beyond estimation. Not only might new cures for diseases be discovered and deployed more rapidly, but fewer billions of research dollars and countless hours of research time might be wasted if failed tests, as well as successful ones, were reliably and promptly reported, rather than never disclosed at all. Not only could science advance more quickly, but the return on foundation and tax dollars could be immeasurably greater as the same funds were redeployed to more productive use.

With the advent of the Internet as well as almost infinite, cheap computing power, the ability to capitalize on all forms of “openness” – in data sets, in research results, in source code, and more – and to benefit from the results has become too large to ignore. The degree to which innovation could broaden and accelerate in such an environment is almost limitless. Equally powerfully, the degree to which data and discoveries can be turned into products and services would provide an economic acceleration that governments, particularly in Europe, are beginning to realize and embrace.

Proponents of proprietary information, systems and code might scoff that such a vision is simply another idealized conception of scientific reality. But they would be wrong, and that is what this book, the third in OpenForum Europe’s continuing series of books on all things open, is all about.

Unlike the prior anthologies in this series, which primarily included essays, Research on Open Innovation compiles full length research papers by respected experts in their fields. In each case, the authors take a detailed, thoroughly referenced look into an area of scientific, commercial, legal or policy importance. In some cases, the authors investigate a single scientific discipline or industry sector, such as chemistry or communications. In others, they explore a foundational element, like intellectual property licensing, or practice, such as government procurement. Taken together, the findings presented in these papers begin to fill in the details of what a true open innovation-based ecosystem should look like, and how it would operate.

In reading the work of these authors, it is to be hoped that you will begin to think of ways that open access could accelerate your own work, whatever it may be. And also about how much more that work could be leveraged by others, if you were to embrace the same commitment to openness.

Not surprisingly, this book has been made available as a free download. We encourage you to visit the OpenForum Europe Web site  to learn more about what the Forum seeks to achieve in Europe, and about how you can help advance the goal of openness wherever in the world you may live.

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