Re ideas, how open is open?

The rise of Asia’s economic superpowers has intensified the global race for new ideas as well as debate over who owns them.  It’s not just specific products and services but iconic brands like Apple that fall prey to fraudsters, supporting calls for tighter intellectual property (IP) laws. At the other end of the scale are open innovation advocates like Stefan Lindegaard, who say the world is opening up fast, and business attitudes toward IP rights need to change with the move to broader, more rapid collaboration. Lindegaard notes that many Scandinavians take a different view from that of countries like the US, where the focus is more on legal protection. They are trusting, somewhat naïve, he says, reflecting on discussions at a recent forum in Denmark. “I still believe the open-minded approach is best in the long run as innovation is moving from a more transactional to a relationship-based approach,” he says, “but the discussion did prompt several of the participants to consider whether their approach to legal protection should be adjusted.” Ultimately, though, ideas have no boundaries, a truth reflected as much in commerce as in nature, argues Steven Johnson in Where Good Ideas Come From: The natural history of innovation. Johnson’s comparison of individual/networked and market/non-market-driven innovations over history shows non-market-based collaboration – his ‘fourth quadrant’ – to be by far the most effective generator of new ideas and hence, innovation. “If you really want to get into a debate about which system is more ‘natural’, then the free flow of ideas is always going to trump the artificial scarcity of patents,” he says, quoting the US’ first patent commissioner, Thomas Jefferson. “Ideas are intrinsically copyable in the way that food and fuel are not. You have to build dams to keep ideas from flowing.”

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