Curious Exceptions? Open Source Software and "Open" Technology

Curious Exceptions? Open Source Software and "Open" Technology

Alessandro Nuvolari (Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands) and Francesco Rullani (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-999-1.ch018
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The aim of this chapter is to explore the differences and commonalities between open source software and other cases of open technology. The concept of open technology is used here to indicate various models of innovation based on the participation of a wide range of different actors who freely share the innovations they have produced. The chapter begins with a review of the problems connected to the production of public goods and explains why open source software seems to be a “curious exception” for traditional economic reasoning. Then it describes the successful operation of similar models of innovation (open technology) in other technological fields. The third section investigates the literature in relation to three fundamental issues in the current open source research agenda, namely, developers’ motivations, performance, and sustainability of the model. Finally, the fourth section provides a final comparison between open source software and the other cases of open technology.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Dissipation: We call dissipation an innovation model that mobilizes (or “burns”) more resources than those actually used to produce the outcome. Dissipation is typical of self-organizing and explorative organizations.

User Community: An innovation model where a community of users of a particular product are the main source of innovation and where innovations are normally freely shared within the community.

Collective Invention: An innovation model in which private firms engaged in the production or use of a specific good freely share one another’s inventions and other pertinent technical information.

Sustainability: We call sustainable an innovation model that re-creates over time the premises for its own reproduction, that is, if it is endowed with a mechanism able to re-create incentives for the participants to continually invest in innovation. In this sense, the patent system as well as the public-funded research system can be conceived as sustainable.

Intrinsic/Extrinsic Motivations: When an activity is undertaken because it enhances agents’ utility directly, the underlying incentives are intrinsic because the actions they trigger have an intrinsic value for the agent. On the contrary, when an action is undertaken instrumentally to reach other goals, the motivations behind the action are defined as extrinsic because the increase of the individual’s utility is not due to action itself, but to its consequences.

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