OS3G - Open Source, 3rd Generation

A (humble) attempt to publish news from the trenches where Free/Libre/Open-Source Software is brought to the mainstream -- and Francois Letellier's blog, too

Monday, November 27, 2006

European Task Force on ICT Uptake

Today was the final meeting of the Task Force on ICT Sector Competitiveness and ICT Uptake which I attended as an observer, after having participated in the works as co-cordinator of the working group on innovation and participant in the working group on IPR. Commissionner V. Reding, Directors-General F. Colasanti and H. Zourek participated in the meeting, along with representatives ("sherpas") of the industry and observers.

The discussions in WG2 (IPR), chaired by SAP, were animated to put it midly. The group came to the conclusion that IPR was too conversial a topic to reach a decent consensus. Some members in the group also felt that all opinions were not taken into account with equal openness. For instance facts tending to question the positive correlation between some forms of IPR and innovation in some sectors (software) were reported as beliefs or positions of a minority. On the other hand, commonplace statements such as the necessity of increased IPR protection for the sake of fostering innovation were depicted as reflecting a wide consensus.

It came to a point that ObjectWeb requested that all mentions of the organization be withdrawn from the topic paper, in order to avoid distortion of input - avoiding distortion being a legitimate request in our eyes that apparently was beyond reach.

I proposed that the following statement be inserted in the topic paper for this WG, which (to my knowledge) has not been performed in spite of support by several participants in the group: "Group members acknowledge that there's no wide consensus on the correlation between IPR protection and innovation. Studies performed by independant authoritative researchers came to different conclusions depending on the context. In some contexts, some forms of IP protection are beneficial to innovation and economic growth; conversely, other forms may instead act as an obstacle in other contexts. As stakes are high for Europe, one should be wary of common beliefs and generalizations. The concept of IPR encompasses many different realities, from brand protection to patents, and the ICT sector produces a full spectrum of products from information to hardware. IP protection has been developed during the industrial revolution and is still a reality in our world, but the way we want to shape it for the information age should be considered with care and with an open mind."

In addition to co-coordinating WG3, ObjectWeb contributed a position and proposals about openness-based innovation, which were echoed in the topic paper of WG3, but not in the final report of the ICT Task Force.

Here is this contribution for the records:

"Support emerging innovation strategies based on openness.

The term open innovation has been proposed as opposed to closed innovation to describe the process of “combining internal and external ideas as well as internal and external paths to market to advance the development of new technologies”. However benefits of openness in innovation extend beyond this. When dealing with innovation, the specificities of the ICT sector must be taken into account. One of the most salient is the production of both material/physical (e.g. consumer electronics) and information/digital (e.g. software) goods – and compounds of them. Material and information goods are extremely different and it is necessary to set up an innovation policy for the ICT sector that differentiate between these various kinds of artifacts. Emerging models of innovation based on openness leverage the ‘non rival’ nature of information goods and gain increased global impact while relying of continuous, incremental, peer production practices that are poorly captured by traditional innovation measurement techniques. Open source software is one example of collective work, often performed by individuals or companies and which delivers quality and sustained innovation without protection of creation being a central motivation.

  • Academic studies of innovation based on openness should be supported through adequate funding from independent sources (e.g. through instruments such as EC-funded research projects). Appropriate metrics and measurement methodologies need to be developed. Such metrics need to be elaborated in an “out of the box” fashion, so to reflect not only direct economic impact in the ICT sector, but also the enabling effects and externalities of innovation based on openness.
  • The European IPR policy should keep a balance between the need to protect innovation and the opportunity to favour incremental innovation in an open context. As examples, the burden of proof should be on proponents of new rights and registration of prior art should be facilitated so to reduce the risk on incremental innovators; for digital goods, this may be achieved by facilitating (with regulatory and technical measures) or even automating on-line registration of prior art at no cost.
  • Technical means for remote inter-personal communication, telecommuting, collaborative online work and management should be improved. This should include public incentives which would create demand for such systems and result in a pull effect on the ICT sector itself (need for broadband networks, adequate telecommunication services, etc). Open standards play a pivotal role in the development of infrastructures software in the information society: two features are essential to the deployment of the information infrastructure needed by the information society: one is a seamless interconnection of networks and the other that the services and applications which build on them should be able to work together (interoperability).
  • When dealing with information goods, and in a very much “the fab is the lab” fashion, virtual clusters should be put in place as alternative to traditional clusters. This would bring answers to the increase of transportation costs and environmental impact and give opportunities for enhanced territory management. Such virtual clusters should be targeted to great challenges and provide the necessary environment (in terms of infrastructure and services) to facilitate the leverage of open innovation.
  • In order to leverage innovation based on openness for the benefit of the ICT sector, bridges should be built between communities with grass-root structure, academia and the business world. This may be achieved through 'meta-organizations' able to federate both individual and organizations around innovative activities based on openness. The European Institute of Technology could play an important role in this. It should include a virtual, distributed unit targeted to innovation based on openness. Activities should be structured according to the best practices of current innovative communities (e.g. open source software, Wikipedia and similar initiatives, etc). Learning, research and creation would be mixed in a single overall process, innovative production be peer-reviewed and registered as prior art in real time and made available to all in an open way, so to impact the industry and civil society at large through appropriate business models.
  • In parallel, appropriate funding mechanisms should be designed at the European level to facilitate the deployment of open innovation systems, leveraging on EU public funding and debt and equity instrument of the EIB group."
Ironically enough, my feeling as one of the youngest participants in the WG on innovation was that the group was short of ideas to innovate... in an innovative way. Apart from the above attempt, I did not see any input which would emphasize on the disruptive practices that we saw happen in the last decade(s), with the arrival of 'digital natives' both as young adults and new workers. A suggestion would be to inject younger blood in future working groups on innovation, including enthustiats, volunteers, entrepreneurs who may live far from the Commission's corridors, but much closer to where the digital society is being built, and transformed, into tommorrow's information society.


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