Breaking Down Digital Barriers: When and How ICT Interoperability Drives Innovation

Innovation and Economic Growth, Interoperability and Competition Policy and Antitrust

Article Snapshot


Urs Gasser and John Palfrey


Berkman Center Research Publication 2007-2008


This study looks at the interaction between interoperability and innovation in the ICT space.

Policy Relevance

When products interoperate, it is easier to innovate, because new products work with others from different sources. The private sector should take the lead. Interoperability does not always benefit everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Main Points

  • Interoperability lets consumers use products and services from different sources together. This study of DRM -- protected music, Digital ID, and mashups of web services -- shows there is no single model or path to interoperability. It arises when:
    • A single firm makes different products within its ambit worth together.
    • Two or more firms collaborate.
    • Technical standards are developed in open forums or ad hoc.
    • From regulatory action.

  • Potential drawbacks of interoperability include privacy and security threats, and a poor fit with some business models. Benefits include more innovation or competition and consumer choice or ease of use.

  • Whether and how much interoperability supports innovation depends on a number of variables, including technological and legal factors.
    • Patents and other rights can help or hinder interoperability.
    • Legal uncertainty can hinder interoperability.

  • Generally, the private sector ought to lead efforts in interoperability, with the public sector acting in the case of market failure.
    • Technology tends to change faster than the government can act.

Get The Article

Find the full article online

Search for Full Article