Open Innovation

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”20″][mk_dropcaps style=”simple-style”]L[/mk_dropcaps]ast summer, Elon Musk, CEO of electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors, stunned the world when he announced his company had dismounted the patent certificates from its Palo Alto headquarters’ walls, symbolizing that they were now available to anyone to use “in good faith.” As he later explained in a company blog, “If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal.”[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”20″]Conventional wisdom holds that without patent protection there would be fewer inventors, fewer innovations and fewer dollars invested in research and development, because companies would be unable to fully exploit their intellectual property without fear of theft and imitators. But Musk and Tesla Motors are anything but conventional. Their decision has forced many in the automobile and clean-tech industries to wonder whether safeguarding their intellectual property does more harm than good.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″]During the industrial revolution, several inventors stopped enforcing patents on the designs of several inventions — including the power loom and Bessemer steel production — in their early stages to initiate widespread use. Today, IT companies are more accustomed than those in other industries to harnessing open source to gain market share. The Android mobile device operating system is a recent example. To compete with Apple’s iPhone, Google handed over its operating system to competitors to exploit and modify in 2007. Not only did it drive down the prices of smartphones, it helped spread the technology to 1.75 billion people today (and staggeringly controls 83.6 per cent of market share). But such measures are riskier for companies in manufacturing and natural resources. Tesla’s decision represents a shift in the culture of innovation — one that even the oil and gas sector is embracing to tackle stagnancies in clean energy, greenhouse gas reduction and water treatment.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”” image_width=”600″ image_height=”350″ crop=”false” lightbox=”false” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″ title=”In 2014, Tesla Motors publicly shared its patents. Here, a motorist charges the Tesla Model S, which was awarded the best overall car by Consumer Reports in 2014.” desc=”PHOTO: COURTESY TESLA MOTORS”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”20″]“The secret to open innovation,” says Denys Resnick, vice-president of strategic programs at NineSigma, a pioneer of open innovation, “is believing that by collaborating we all create something superior — something we couldn’t individually. And the proprietary benefit comes from how we apply that information, that knowledge or IP.” She adds, “By collaborating, we advance society.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][mk_blockquote style=”line-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”16″ align=”left”]The secret to open innovation is believing that by collaborating we all create something superior.[/mk_blockquote][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]Patents themselves may not be as critical to innovation as we think. According to a provocatively titled article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, “The Case Against Patents,” there’s no correlation between greater patent activity and technological progress. Though the number of U.S. patents more than quadrupled between 1983 and 2013, productivity grew by only about one per cent. “Sometimes we tell [our clients] it’s not necessarily about owning IP but your rights to IP,” says Resnick.

Founded in 2000, NineSigma leads the open innovation movement by promoting knowledge-sharing, patent pooling and the idea of looking beyond a company’s own internal research and development to NASDAQ-trading multinationals and nascent start-ups. Though its clients include Shell Oil, ExxonMobil and BP, Resnick says oil and gas players are more guarded about open innovation, partially because of the capital-intensive nature of research in the industry. The timelines to get products to market are also long, because the sector is heavily regulated. “Just because of the way that the industry is structured, it’s hard for them to be nimble,” says Resnick. However, she adds, “we’ve seen increasing openness in the oil and gas industry. They’re moving in the right direction.”[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”” image_width=”800″ image_height=”350″ crop=”false” lightbox=”true” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″ title=”Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance has helped improve the oilsands’ environmental performance.” desc=”PHOTO: © BAYNE STANLEY/ALAMY”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”20″][mk_dropcaps style=”simple-style”]O[/mk_dropcaps]ne hundred and forty-six years since Thomas Edison filed his first patent, for an electrographic voting machine, the company he founded, General Electric, has more patents than it knows what to do with. For every invention that’s been monetized, either through manufacturing or licensing, others collect dust. “I don’t even know how many patents GE has,” says Bradley Smith, GE Canada’s vice-president of regional programs. “Any one of our technologies in any one of our businesses could be a solution in another market segment with the right modifications.”[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″]That’s precisely why it organized a workshop for small and medium-sized enterprises at its Customer Innovation Centre in Calgary in February 2014. Working with the Alberta Government’s arm’s-length technology incubator, Alberta Innovates, GE has opened its patent locker to the province’s businesses that might find a niche use for its inventions. The Accelerator Small and Medium Sized Enterprises Workshop last winter was attended by people working in the energy industry, as well as aviation, health care and others. But GE has taken a special interest in the oilsands.[/vc_column_text][mk_button dimension=”three” size=”large” outline_skin=”dark” outline_active_color=”#fff” outline_hover_color=”#333333″ bg_color=”#13bdd2″ text_color=”light” icon=”moon-next” url=”/open-innovation/2/” target=”_self” align=”right” fullwidth=”false” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”15″]Next Page[/mk_button][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]