Last Thursday I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Raleigh to attend the All
Things Open conference, and although I could only attend one of the two days, there was no shortage of information presented by
industry experts and leaders in the technology and business realms.
Although interested in Open Source software, I wouldn’t classify myself an
expert by any means, pretty much just knowing the big names like Mozilla, RedHat
or Drupal and having used various frameworks in the past like Bootstrap. Apart
from that, my knowledge in the area was pretty limited. This was therefore a
valuable experience in that it presented software design and development in a
way that I had heard in passing but never decided to dive deep into and
understand more thoroughly.
Originally coming from a product design background, one particular topic
throughout the event stood out to me. How ‘Open’ Changes Product Development’.
This topic dealt with questions like ‘How can a product with no protected IP be
competitive?’ or ‘What business models can be applied if a creation is freely
available to others?’. Basically, what happens to the product development
process and go to market strategy when you start giving stuff away?
So, let’s start with defining what a product actually is. A product, digital or
non digital, is an object, piece of information or service created as a result
of a process and serves to satisfy a need or want. Take a stool for example, an
object created to satisfy the need to rest after standing for a period of time
or serve the want to comfortably perform actions without standing.
So what is an ‘Open’ product then? Well, rather than being a single object,
think of ‘Open’ products more like toolkits. Why? Because toolkits allow for
contribution, collaboration and extension. Think of the stool again, but this
time, it’s a stool from IKEA. It contains all the parts to create a stool, but
out of the box it is just a pile of parts. You can choose to create a stool if
you want, but you may choose to create a completely different object
instead—say a toddler’s bike created from 2 stool sets (yes, it’s been
So, that’s cool and interesting—by modularising your product and letting others
play and experiment you allow for more creativity. Who knows what else could be
created. Now, what happens when you decide to give away your ‘Open’ product at
no cost? What happens when you give out the diagram for the IKEA stool for free?
Here is a recent quote from a company that did exactly that.
Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish our position in this regard.
Tesla Motors publicly announced that the company would be applying the open
source philosophy to all their patents, making them available to everyone. This
isn’t to say they are giving away, or even officially licensing, their
patents—they still own them. Rather they will not take any legal action against
anyone wishing to use them. So why has Tesla done this and how does the open
philosophy enable them here? Tesla’s goal may be to get other companies to use
its battery technology so that there is a greater incentive for others to build
an infrastructure of compatible electric charging stations nationwide. This
requires making Tesla's technology more widely available, even to electric car
competitors, in the hopes of growing the market and their future opportunity.
Will Tesla’s open patent move result in something as awesome as the IKEA stool
I personally hope so! Thinking about products with an ‘open’ approach can
produce some amazing results, whether you apply it to your next IKEA hack or
possibly the next generation of transportation.
Additionally, a shout out to our very own Dustan Kasten
who gave a stellar presentation on Modern Web Applications to a full house of
developers furiously taking notes. Major props to his live coding efforts, too.
Anyone who has given a live demo before knows Murphey’s law is in full force
during this period and with an audience of over 150 people the pressure was
certainly at a high. Well done, Dustan!