Week 1: Innovation and Product Development

During my first week in my Open Source for the Common Good course, we compared and contrasted Open Source Design (OSD) and Intellectual Property (IP). OSD can be defined as a product or piece of work that is distributed to the public in an effort to stem conversation and development of that work. It has been seen as a faster and more effective method for innovation and product development. IP, on the other hand, is a developed work or product that is then legally protected from replication or use by any other person or organization apart from the creator. IP is in the form of patents, copyrights, or trademarks, while OSD can take many forms. An example of OSD is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is public and constantly being edited by its users to provide more detailed and useful information.

The use and IP and OSD have skyrocketed since the introduction of the Internet and the technological boom. However, I believe that the increase in OSD has proven significantly more important. Don’t get me wrong, Intellectual Property has many necessary benefits as well. For the inventor of the patent, it could prove to become a key financial asset. If the patent suddenly becomes desirable to another party, the creator now has the financial upper hand and can trade the use of their patent in return for compensation. Entrepreneurs especially desire patents for their products, as it could be a key asset for securing funding from possible investors. Patents suggest protection since no other competitor will be able to use their work and they have sole ownership over that portion of the market that the patent holds. If other competitors find themselves stuck behind a previously owned patent, it forces them to search for other solutions, driving innovation and further product development.

Understandably, Open Source Design shares many of the same incentives as well. OSD can significantly decrease the need for finances. Through the use of open source, people have access to the information and the product at hand, which allows quicker and more effective solutions. However, most importantly, it can prove to be much cheaper than IP product development. OSD has the ability to reduce the length of time needed to move from the idea stage of a product to a final product stage. This could in turn greatly improve the number of successful start-ups and small businesses since the need for capital is decreased due to less R&D. OSD is developed by the public, while IP is stuck to development within that company. Not only is OSD cheaper, faster, and more effective than traditional product development, but the probability that product improvement occurs is much higher than that of IP. For example, as we discussed in class, the Zika virus was discovered in Africa in the 1950’s. It was believed that it would never escape the small area that it inhabited, so no research was conducted on the virus. However, if OSD had been used for the development of a vaccine for the past 70 years, a vaccine may have already been created.

The use of both IP and OSD can be seen across many technology-based products around the world. For example, Eero, a 2014 start-up, has recently made headlines as “the world’s best-reviewed WiFi system.” (Eero) They strategically use both IP and OSD to make their products as effective as possible. Eero is patent pending for their systems and methods for intuitive home networking. Following patent approval, they hope to protect their product from being replicated and used by its competitors. With the patent to secure their sole use of their networking methods, Eero strategically uses OSD to constantly evolve its software for better use. As stated on Open Hub, Eero has had 296 contributors representing 862,169 lines of code. Without the use of OSD, this code would have taken an estimated 240 years of effort. OSD is providing incredible mechanisms for development that we have never seen before.

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