Those who object that the open source path to innovation is just giving away the store, and unprofitable, ignore the centuries of success and profitability of shunning expensive and unwieldy Intellectual Property schemes. The early car industry, as I and numerous others point out, adopted a “patent pool” early on to avoid unnecessary and costly (though profitable to lawyers) litigation. This patent pool essentially meant that all car companies in the pool would “donate” their IP to each other, rather than jealously protect it, so that innovation rather than patent “thickets” prevailed. Learning their lesson from innovation-hindering disputes in the early steam industry, and watching similar disputes slow innovation in aeronautics, the auto manufacturers who joined a patent pool agreed that profits could be made through innovating, building quality goods, and rewards could be reaped by all through a virtuous (and profitable) circle of sharing techniques rather than employing lawyers to guard them.
Patent pools are not quite Open Source, but they are similar. Open Source short-circuits IP by revealing the technology or technique without seeking first any IP protection. Patent pools get the protection, then reveal and share it with an agreement not to litigate. But in a sense, the early patent pool in automotive innovation serves as a model for current attempts to innovate and profit through open source manufacturing.
This week’s example is Oomlout which makes open source robot kits, and instructs others (for free) about their methodology.