Open Source Projects as Horizontal Innovation Networks: By and For Users

Intellectual Property and Open Source

Article Snapshot


Eric Von Hippel


MIT Sloan Working Paper No. 4366-02, 2002


This paper studies how users can improve products such as software.

Policy Relevance

Government policy should support networks of users that improve products and innovate, because such innovations help everyone at low cost.

Main Points

  • Product users can develop networks to innovate and improve products, helping everyone. This happens when:
    • Some users need to innovate and to reveal their innovations to others.
    • The spread of innovation between users costs little. (Otherwise user innovations might be sold commercially instead).

  • User innovation happens often with open source software (OSS). OSS lets users change code to suit their needs; some open source code can only be distributed for free.

  • Government subsidies of innovation should not favor producer innovation over user innovation.

  • The Digital Millennium Copyright Act includes provisions that make it hard for users to innovate without violating the law. This harms innovation and growth.

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