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25 August 2011, 15:53

TransferSummit icon TransferSummit: Evolving open innovation in software

By Ross Gardler and Sander van der Waal

In the first of a short series of articles introducing the upcoming TransferSummit in Oxford, Ross Gardler and Sander van der Waal explain the principle of open innovation and how this applies to free and open source software.

'Open innovation' is a term coined by Professor of Business Henry Chesbrough in his 2003 book "Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology". In the years since its publication, Chesbrough's ideas on how technology should be managed and exploited have become extremely influential. Over the same period, the public profile of free and open source software (FOSS) has risen.

TransferSummit, the enterprise-research forum to be held 5-8 September 2011, enables participants to examine areas of agreement and difference between the notions of 'open innovation' and 'free and open source software'. Critically, it explores how open source can enhance innovation in commercial, academic and public sector circles.

Many people confuse innovation with invention. The latter focuses on the creation of something new without necessarily realising economic benefit. Innovation, on the other hand, is the application of inventions to generate economic benefit.

Open innovation is a specific form of innovation. Simply put, open innovation is a practice which actively seeks out useful inventions and innovative technologies that are developed outside your own organisation and makes your own inventions and innovative technologies widely available to others. Where potential partnerships are identified open innovation provides mechanisms for collaboration and mutual benefit.

Underlying Chesbrough's promotion of the sharing of inventions across organisational boundaries is the conviction that, in an increasingly complex technological world, no individual organisation can command a monopoly of top talent. Given this, previous 'vertical' models of technological development (in which a single organisation invents and develops every aspect of its products) are no longer optimal, or in some cases even possible. Proponents of open innovation argue that organisations must avoid what has become known as the 'not invented here' phenomenon, in which external technologies are treated as inferior simply because they come from outside.

OSS Watch is the Open Source advisory service to the UK academic sector that launched and continues to support the annual TransferSummit conference as a means to catalyse innovation in the UK. TransferSummit connects top researchers and academics with business leaders and organisations to streamline the innovation and resource discovery process, cultivate partnerships, and accelerate the process of commercialising products. With a focus on the enduring impact of open innovation across a range of disciplines and applications, participants will share, discuss, and discover strategic opportunities that accelerate growth.

TransferSummit focuses on innovation in software based businesses and argues that open source software presents a viable means for open innovation for such businesses. Analogies can be drawn between Chesbrough's criticisms of closed, vertical organisations and Eric Raymond's criticisms of 'cathedrals' in his seminal essay 'The Cathedral and the Bazaar'. Both tend to favour internal expertise over external, and both are potentially losing the advantages that access to a wider market of ideas could bring. Chesbrough also heavily promotes collaboration between internal and external technologists as a mutually beneficial measure. This could be compared to the open development methodology that is practised in a great many open source projects.

It's not quite as simple as that, however. Chesbrough's examples of exchanges of technology are largely based around patentable processes and their paid licensing to selected external organisations. This is only natural, as patents are the form of intellectual property best suited to protecting all embodiments of an innovative technological process, and selective paid licensing is a traditional mode of patent exploitation. However, FOSS relies upon universally granted copyright licences to facilitate its model, with either implicit or explicit universal patent grants accompanying them.

At TransferSummit delegates will be able to hear from leaders in open source software from all sectors and an array of organisations represented including the UK Government Cabinet Office Skunkworks, Microsoft Research Connections, Adobe, London School of Economics, NquiringMinds, Toby Churchill Ltd, RedHat, University of Bolton, UKOLN, Canonical, WSO2, HP, OSS Watch, the Apache Software Foundation, Outercurve Foundation, Sirius, Wikimedia, University of Oxford, OpenDirective, eBay, Alfresco, Mozilla, MITRE, Moorcrofts, IBM, and more.

With unparalleled content, comprehensive industry expertise, and a view into some of the most innovative projects and influencers, TransferSummit is a vital investment in your organisation's future.

Ross Gardler
Ross Gardler

About Ross Gardler: TransferSummit chair Ross Gardler is a committer and PMC member on a number of Apache projects, a champion and mentor on incubating projects and a PMC member of the Community Development project. He is the founder of OpenDirective, a company specialising in making the connections between the academic research sector and the commercial product and service delivery sector. Until recently he was manager of OSS Watch, the open source advisory service to the UK higher and further education sector.

Sander van der Waal
Sander van der Waal

About Sander van der Waal: he is one of the most technical members of the OSS Watch team, Sander has presented at technical workshops on the best practices in open development. He is also involved in the organisation of workshops and conferences, ranging from a developer-oriented workshop on the Apache Wookie (Incubating) project to the TransferSummit/UK conference, where he is a trainer and presenter. Sander has a specific interest for projects in the fields of Green IT, Big Data and Linked Data.

The H is proud to be a media sponsor of TransferSummit 2011.

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