Gawer on Linux and Innovation

Ubiquity (ACM) has an interview with Annabelle Gawer, the co-author of “Platform Leadership”. She talks about innovation and Linux:

[Openness] increases tremendously innovation that complements what was previously written. The old school of thought about innovation was that you had to protect everything in order to prevent substitute innovation. If you protect your innovation by a patent, it becomes unlawful to come up with a substitute during the time of the patent. The idea is a fundamental insight of economics, which is that you should protect the incentives of the innovator, because it’s very hard work to innovate. There’s a lot of trial and error, but once you’re done it’s easy for someone else to imitate you. If there were no protection then the innovators would stop trying to innovate because they would not have economic benefit. This philosophy underlies our whole patent system. Now, what the Linux story uncovers in a blatant way is that there are other kinds of incentives to innovate. It shows that you can open things up and not stop innovation. It might stop competitive innovation, but it doesn’t stop collaborative innovation. Those are the pluses of the Linux story.

The minuses are: How do you maintain such a product over the long run? Who is going to ensure the maintenance, which is less exciting than being a wonderful hacker inventing genius code? You need to have sound commercial organization behind it, and for that kind of thing to happen you need to have the traditional business incentives and therefore you need to protect from imitation. How do you reconcile openness and closeness? How to reconcile creativity and maintenance over the long run hasn’t been resolved yet. But I think the Linux story has expanded our understanding of the phenomenon of innovation.

Also see: my earlier post on this topic.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.