Hard-nosed sharing is the name of a new game

Hard-nosed sharing is the name of a new game
Sharing process is frequently and willingly done – especially in fast-developing fields, (this column is predicated on it); but sharing technology is a new phenomenon. Propelled by the need for speed, and by the ease with which sharing is now possible, strategies for sharing now have to be determined.

Next weeks: by exploiting collaborations, the new Digital Catapult Centre in London aims to tackle ‘obstructive problems’ whose solutions will unlock digital futures. And the Space Catapult is exploiting developments in space technology to chart new applications and facilitate path-finding initiatives.

‘To the new generation of technologists, moving projects and data fast is worth more than making everything in secret.’ ‘Technology for big computers, electric cars and micro-controllers to operate things like power tools and engines is now given away.’ The extensive sharing of once proprietary information would bring a traditional patent lawyer to tears.

‘The swapping of ideas has been commonplace for decades in software engineering. Open source projects like the Linux operating system revolutionised the Internet and tripped up companies like Sun Microsystems. Hardware was considered a tougher, more expensive business to enter until a few years ago. But now you don’t need a lot of people or a lot of capital to manufacture a prototype. PCH International, an Irish company with a development lab in San Francisco, has in the last 18 months made more than 1,000 prototypes for both big companies and small startups, producing 20-40 objects by 3D printer a day and over 50 working prototypes a week.’ And the global production of vast quantities of microchips has contributed to this facility.

Why do companies make software and hardware free? It can create competition for your opponent without spending money on a new product (as did IBM with its open source software); it can support your business by enabling suppliers to lower your costs or speed innovation (as has Facebook); it can help to develop the market for your own products, (as Tesla sought to do by giving away all the electric car company’s patents). But as Elon Musk of Tesla wrote, “Technology leadership is not defined by patents but rather by the ability to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers”.

The New York Times concludes that this does not herald a new world where everything is free and all ideas are open. “You have to figure out”, says one commentator, “where you are in business and what you want to own”. And you need to do so in a world in which collaboration is increasingly significant, as specialisation and interdependency increase.

‘Innovation without all the secrecy’, New York Times, 30 March 2015.

June 2015

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