The Economist special issue on patents and technology

There is a good piece in The Economist's special edition about patents and technology. The article entitled "An open secret" (registration required) in particular; it's about the fact that sharing intellectual property can be more profitable than keeping it to the company:

Why would a firm that cares so much about intellectual property want to give it away? [about IBM which pledged 500 of its existing software patents to the open-source community]

“It isn't because we are nice guys,” explains Mr Kelly, the head of the company's intellectual-property division. The company's motive, he says, is fear that patent rights have swung so far towards protection that they risk undermining innovation. The patent commons is meant to help restore the balance. “If this balance goes too far in one direction or another, this industry will not survive and our company will not survive. It is really that fundamental to us,” Mr Kelly says. Since then, some other companies have taken similar initiatives. (...) The trend towards open software code is an example of a bigger development in the technology industry: a new approach towards collaboration and “open innovation” that at times seems to work around the traditional intellectual-property system, and at times is directly fostered by it. “People think this is all a sort of flaky, radical, pinko strategy not related to the competitive marketplace. Au contraire! This is about how to kill your competitor,” says Don Tapscott, a management expert who studies innovation. “And you kill your competitor these days by identifying the need to innovate yourself, but also opening up that innovation; by owning IP, but also sharing IP.”

I also find that the metaphor used as a conclusion is nice:

Because open-source is non-proprietary, customers are much less locked into the firm supplying the IT systems. Its interfaces are open. Software interfaces are the digital equivalent of plugs and sockets. They require little intellectual endeavour, but are treated as intellectual property to keep rivals out. Opening up an interface means new software can easily be written to plug into it, increasing its value to users.

This open-source phenomenon now interestingly shape the future of big companies like IBM, Nokia or Sun. Like a bottom up phenomenon, blue chip are turning to it after small companies and individual. The next move is for media companies, which are dead reluctant to adopt this model...