Friday, 1 July 2011

The battle between "Open Science" and "Open Innovation"

"Open innovation" is a term that describes the sourcing of new methods, ideas, solutions etc. from outside the organisation.

I hate "open innovation"! I don't hate the process of "open innovation", I just hate the term. Because there's nothing "open" about it. The final "innovation" is just as closed as if it had it been invented in-house. 

The poster child of open innovation is, of course, InnoCentive. Clever name, brilliant business model: "Seekers" invite "solvers" to provide solutions to their problems for a cash reward. InnoCentive represents open-something for sure, but if not innovation, then what? Open questions? Not quite. Open quandaries? Better. Open befuddlement? Too far! I therefore humbly suggest;
InnoCentive; crowdsourced solutions to open quandaries.

However, so called "open innovation" extends way beyond crowdsourcing of the Innocentive mould. A great number of acquisitions and licensing deals, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, can be seen in this light. Although such transactions open very little to the public domain it is clear that innovation has technically come from outside the purchaser/licensee, hence "open innovation" still fits.

More on "open innovation": Pharma are increasingly looking to bypass the biotech middleman by partnering directly with academia. This represents the funding of public research by multinational corporations in exchange for first dibs on any intellectual property that may emerge. It could be argued that such initiatives pit "open innovation" in mortal combat with "open science". "Open science", remember, asserts that public research belongs public domain, for free, and for the good of all.

Semantic posturing aside, innovation is the key to progress, no matter how it is couched. A nice recent example from Henry Chesborough (who coined open innovation) on how it can help pharma. So let's call a spade a spade; I hate the term "open innovation" because I can twist it to be in conflict with "open science" which is a movement that I truly value. I would rather "open innovation" revert to plain old "contract research", perhaps reserving "open quandary" to describe the crowdsourcing of same. 

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