January 26, 2017

Professor Etienne opened class on Tuesday by explaining that he named the course “Open Source for the Common Good” rather than “Open Source Design vs. Intellectual Property” because he wanted to acknowledge that Intellectual Property (IP) does have value. I agree with Professor Etienne because I think that in developing economies like Africa, IP and Open Source Design (OSD) offer comparable benefits that equally encourage innovation. However, I also think that in fully developed economies, OSD not only offers comparable benefits to IP, but would also stimulate more innovation than IP due to the larger available knowledge base.

First, most innovators in developing economies are going to be primarily concerned with the immediate economic benefit of their innovation. The potential for immediate profit is necessary to stimulate innovation in developing economies because the majority of individuals in these economies are occupied with trying to provide for their basic needs and safety (Maslow). Therefore, potential innovators in resource-scarce economies cannot afford to take time away from working towards their own subsistence in order to innovate unless there is a clear economic benefit to the innovation. Given that the primary incentive for innovation in a developing economy is economic, IP and OSD offer comparable benefits in terms the potential for immediate profit and the potential for funding. IP holds value for these innovators because IP allows innovators to directly profit from their invention after obtaining a patent (WIPO, 6). However, OSD provides a comparable economic incentive in the form of government contracts or outside government grants. Even without a patent, innovators can take their design to the government and obtain immediate funding for projects that align with the government or grant’s goals (USADF). In addition, IP provides innovators with valuable patent protection that can then stimulate funding for their project (WIPO, 8). OSD also allows innovators to stimulate funding for their projects, but it does not encourage funding through the provision of protection. Instead, OSD allows innovators to encourage investment by advertising their knowledge and, in turn, creating markets where they did not exist before.

Image: SimplyPsychology.org

On the other hand, in a fully developed economy, OSD stimulates more innovation and product development than IP because innovators no longer need to focus solely on the immediate economic potential of their project. The majority of individuals in a fully developed economy do not spend their days worrying about how to provide for their basic needs. Instead, individuals focus mainly on self-actualization, or how they can become known, and many people use innovation as a means to self-actualize (Maslow). Because knowledge is freely available in OSD, innovators can more easily access the building blocks and tools that they need to innovate (Open Collab). This in turn stimulates more innovation than an IP environment, in which those self-actualizing individuals would not have access to the knowledge that they need. In addition, OSD leads to more innovation because it is better able to keep products out of the valley of death. Generally, in IP if a design does not appear profitable, it will be thrown out and forgotten because innovation is intended to lead to commercialization (WIPO, 1). In OSD, if an idea appears unprofitable to the creator, it can be changed and made profitable by another innovator (Open Collab). Lastly, OSD offers a competitive advantage in developed economies that IP does not. When IP prevails, companies in developed economies become less competitive on a global scale because innovators in developing economies can come up with their own, better products before the companies can reach their market. Using OSD, companies can better access the ideas of those innovators and ensure that they stay competitive.

On my honor, I did not give or receive aid on this assignment. – Sarah Killian