Is open source the new model for collective innovation?

I read an interesting article about a former BMW employee who is designing a new car by inviting hundreds of engineers and designers to post contributions online and work collaboratively on the project. The idea is to test the hypothesis that the open source methodology can transfer into spheres other than software. Like all good virtual forums, subject matter experts moderate the content and guide the discussion.

But what happens if someone steals the design and actually builds the “OSCar”? Who will own it? Does ownership really matter? If it doesn’t then that represents a huge threat to some really powerful global business enterprises.

[tags]open source, innovation[/tags]

4 thoughts on “Is open source the new model for collective innovation?

  1. Sounds like an awesome project. It draws on the non-monetary rewards that people can gain from working on things that interest them. Also, the expectation of future rewards if someone wants to employ them to improve the vehicle.

    I don’t know much about IP law, but if the IP is not protected, couldn’t a manufacturer grab the innovations, register them and stop other people from using them? Oil guys might claim the IP for an electric car for their own dastardly reasons. Car companies will be less likely to invest in making the car if anyone else can do so – the risk wouldn’t be worth it.

    It would be helpful to have some kind of legal structure around the ideas created – perhaps a trust that declared its ownership of the IP and required contributors to cede their claim to the IP to the trust. Mass production would require a big investment and that would require the protection of some form of manufacturing licence, at least for a period. For example, a car firm looking for a new direction would pay a license fee to the trust for 5-10 years. Licenses would be revoked if manufacture failed to commence. Profits could be invested in a development workshop or workshops to experiment with the design ideas and build prototypes.

  2. Open sourcing for technology is a great idea in theory but the whole thing sounds just a little too Greek for cynical modern market place. The question which immediately follows that of ‘who would own the design?’ is ‘Who would build the design?’ Few modern manufacturers would be prepared to carry the risk of building a car that they do not own the design for. Large corporations have sizable teams of people evaluating the risks developing a product and to try to sell that product without taking ownership of quality through design seems unimaginable. What if there were a problem with any element of design not found until production? Who would take the blame for the problem and who would be responsible to find a solution both practically and economically. I work as a designer in a technology based industry and the companies I work for go to some lengths to assure technological security for their clients. I must sign confidentiality agreements and my contract has long clauses about intellectual property rights..blah…blah…Its not that I think the idea is without merit, indeed I would like to see it come to a fruition but I suspect a lot of work will need to be done before that ever happens and I beleive that the developers will need to firm up the concept of ownership if they want any notable manufacturers to use the resulting design. Otherwise it will be destined for the same fate as the Tucker Torpedo (though for different reasons).

    Speaking of Greek, have you seen the new film ‘300’? An interesting exposition of the battle of the 300 Spartans under the inspired leadership of King Leonidus against the quarter million hoards of King Xerxes Persian army. Filmed using surreal comic book renderings with a truly compelling (and large size) cast and a script which lends directly from history it makes for a pretty watchable movie. While very graphic, I felt this lent more to the weight of the concepts involved. Much of our modern ideology regarding democracy is founded on the principle expounded here that free men will choose to fight (and fight with superior verve) over those forced to fight in slavery. History clearly shows that the armies of Sparta were constituted with superior warriors and that they won many battles in spite of inferior numbers. Presumably this is where we get the modern word ‘spartan’ (meaning few) from.

  3. I can think of at least two companies here in Wellington that have taken the basic kernal of an open source software product and then modified it to add value and make it saleable, plus they provide consultancy services around that product.

    I think that is a perfectly acceptable model especially as those companies participate in and are big supporters of the open source developer community by sponsoring conferences and forums etc.

  4. Well, there again we are talking about software which, in spite of some purist naivety, is not the same as a motor vehicle. One of the prime differences is that of perception. The majority of the world’s population still have trouble grasping the idea that software can even have value because it is not something you can actually graps in your hands. That lack of tactility means that for many, largely intellectual (and often nebulous) entities such as computer programs shouldn’t have much in the way of a dollar value.

    I am guilty of this feeling myself. Even though I work all day using state of the art software (the licences for some packages costing as much as a new Chevrolet) I can’t help feeling that they are horribly over-priced and, in some cases, I know this to be true.

    So much software out there is available only in it’s infancy. The freeware in question had probably little or no value to begin with (or possibly even a negative value!) thus the real cost of the salebale software was in the many hours of development it took to make it useful. This is akin to suggesting that we took the concept for a wheel (ie something that was round) and built a marketable car out of it. I’m certain that what those companies did will be a good model for open sourcing with regards to software development but really I should try to move away from suggesting any links between software and motor vehicles – they are entirely different breeds of dog…

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