Category Archives: Focus

Articles focusing on a particular aspect of Open Innovation or a company.

Open Source VS Open Innovation

Open Source and Open Innovation

We are often asked the difference between Open Innovation and Open Source. And many people confound the two. Let us try to clarify the links between these notions. We will take the opportunity to introduce others (Open Hardware, Open Data, Open Access etc.)

Open Source

Let’s start with the Open Source movement, since it precedes the Open Innovation. This movement was born in the ‘80s around MIT in the United States. It is a reaction to the rise of software vendors emerging in the ’70s. They develop software irrespective of hardware manufacturers and sell it against licenses. So they protect their software and it is often impossible to change what they have developed. Richard Stallman, then a researcher at MIT, reacts against what is a trend opposite to the ‘supporting and sharing’ philosophy of the community of developers and creates a project called GNU, aiming to develop a “free” operating system. He creates a foundation (Free Software Foundation) and writes a manifesto to encourage other developers to join. The first visible success of this initiative will be the Linux operating system which is used today, for example, in all smartphones based on Android.



A few years later, in 1998, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) was born in California. This initiative is especially designed to remove the ambiguity of the English term “free”, which means “libre” (freedom) but also “gratis” (zero price). Open Source promoters don’t deny the economy around the software. Instead, it will rely on paid services (maintenance, improvements, adaptations, etc.) provided together with the software whose licenses are free. OSI clarifies the definition of Open Source and codifies the requirements for a license to be considered compatible. For example, it must allow

modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.


Open Innovation

The term Open Innovation appeared in 2003 in a book published by Henry Chesbrough. The Open Innovation combines the practice of innovation relying deliberately outside the company in order to improve efficiency or to better promote innovation efforts internally. Chesbrough in his book makes a synthesis of practices which are not new. For example, the use of external knowledge via “gatekeepers” is already identified by Thomas Allen in the ‘60s. Von Hippel in the ‘80 identifies the advanced users (“lead users”) as a key resource to develop disruptive innovations. Overall, Open Innovation promotes the development of flow of knowledge and ideas during the innovation process:


  • between the company and its environment, in order to allow better sharing of risks and rewards with external partners;
  • within the company itself, in order to allow greater involvement of all company employees.


We believe that the real novelties related to Open Innovation were not yet fully in action when the term was coined: we should rather focus on the most recent developments of information and communication technologies to find new tools and practices. They rely on social networks, e-commerce, semantic web technologies, free access data (Open Access, Open Data), etc.


From the preceding introductions, it is clear that Open Source and Open Innovation are very different concepts. Let’s mention four important differences.

  1. First of all, regarding the objects involved: software for the Open Source; any type of product or service for the Open Innovation. This difference could partially fade away in the coming years since the production of physical objects is now tackled by derivatives of the Open Source movement such as the Open Source Appropriate Technologies (OSTA) or, more recently, by the Open Source Hardware.
  2. Next, regarding the economic and legal framework proposed. The Open Source provides a framework for economic exchange and an intellectual property policy. Open Innovation leaves these questions totally open. Nothing, for example, defines the conditions for participation of a “lead-user” or of an expert to an Open Innovation challenge.
  3. The weight of the actors. In Open Innovation, the terms of exchange above are often dictated by a large company or defined though a specialized intermediary. These intermediaries don’t really exist in the Open Source since the production and provision of the code may be done via computer servers (forges, repositories).
  4. Finally, the diversity of Open Innovation contexts is huge whereas Open Source covers software development or improvement. Companies use Open Innovation for very upstream projects (ideation, ideas competition), as well as problem solving, improving existing products, mounting research projects, etc.

Common points

But there are also strong commonalities between the two. We will mention four.

  1. The displacement of company borders. Both approaches call into question the boundaries of the traditional business, emphasizing collaboration, sharing, decentralization. They lower the barriers of language and geography (although there is a strong dominance of English and the United States), thus allowing a global flow of ideas and information;
  2. Open Innovation and Open Source value what is today called collective intelligence, recognizing that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, that diversity, independence and decentralization of opinions and ideas allowed by the internet provide access to a richness which was difficult to implement before;
  3. An important element of motivation is the desire to work for the common good. This concern is probably stronger in the Open Source movement (and especially in the Free Software), but we often find this motivation among participants in Open Innovation processes, whether experts, employees or individuals;
  4. Finally, the information and communication technologies play a key role in both the access to information and knowledge, in the production and proliferation of data, and in the circulation of ideas. The Open Access movement promotes unrestricted online access to peer-reviewed scholarly research. This enables a better flow of scientific ideas that need to be read and criticized in order to progress.

open source vs open innovation idexlab infography

Possible convergences?

Are the difference meant to disappear and could the two notions, Open Source and Open Innovation, converge? We’ve seen that Open Source initially focused on the software, but it inspires other movements around products/hardware. On the other hand, the total absence of a common reference framework in Open Innovation in the current state is a weakness. It is today compensated, for example, by intermediaries, but it would probably be appropriate to launch a reflection on some basic rules aiming for example to protect the interests of the contributors to ideas, information and knowledge.


We bet that the commonalities that unite the two practices and are expressed in many other emerging practices are a strong enough base to make the theory and practice of Open Innovation evolve. Open Innovation is still young and lacking guidelines.



The experts are essential to our businesses, particularly those wishing to innovate. Innovation often requires, starting from market and customers’ expectations, to answer new questions. Experts have knowledge related to their education, experience and practice. They can therefore propose relevant solutions to these issues as they fall within their area of expertise. They are the embodiment of state- of-the-art in their field. Companies seeking to innovate need them. Unable to control all areas internally, these companies must learn, in our connected world, to seek external experts who can enable them move forward. It is this need that is addressed by innovation and expert detection platforms such as ideXlab’s.

However, finding the right experts for a given domain doesn’t necessarily happen by itself. And besides, what exactly is a “good” expert? And how do we find one?

The “good” expert

We can illustrate our answer to the first question thanks to the Venn diagram in the figure below.


the good expert

Experts who can answer a question asked by a company must have three qualities: be competent, of course; be available to interact therewith; be open to adapt their competencies to the company’s issues.

Availability. It often happens to find an expert who seems ideal on paper, but not available: he/she doesn’t have time or simply doesn’t feel like getting involved. This crippling lack of availability reduces the expert to a phantasm for the seeker. Einstein in his time would certainly have brought joy to hundreds of companies but he was too busy to devote time to them. Nowadays, certain university professors, for example, who are authorities in their field, won’t have a minute to spend for companies searching for answers.

Openness. Certain experts also lack the openness needed for this type of exercise. It is really rare that the question asked to overlap exactly the areas mastered by the expert. The expert has to carefully examine the issue prior to tailoring its response to the context of the company, also to show empathy and listening. He/she may have to agree to add other competencies, for example to industrialize his/her solution. Otherwise, he/she will propose a dogmatic and theoretical answer which will be eventually difficult to integrate within the company. These qualities, which are often found in this population, however, are not systematic.

Competency. Finally, the proliferation of open platforms allows everyone – both experts and non- experts – to propose solutions to problems, thus making it possible for curious and available individuals to offer their services. Unfortunately, their proposals are often a waste of time for the company at the origin of the issue, as they don’t have the depth needed to provide real added value. Moreover, the competency is based on knowledge which is not absolute and may be controversial: a reputable real knowledge at a given time can, for example, be rebutted by the advance of science. It is therefore recommended not to engage with only one competent expert, but with several.

The “good” expert thus meets these three qualities: availability, openness and competency.

How to find the ‘good’ experts?

On the ideXlab platform, we take into account the three qualities mentioned above.

Firstly, the competency is ensured by the analysis of digital footprints left by the experts we seek. These digital footprints, for example, are the fruit of scientific publications (reviewed by peers) or patents (reviewed by trained patent experts) that guarantee a high quality content. The competency of our experts is evaluated automatically by our algorithms and takes into account the bibliometric data and their social network environment.

Secondly, the availability: we contact simultaneously several experts who are carefully selected, but rarely solicited because of their overall number (we estimate we can contact more than 10 million experts worldwide) and the accuracy provided by the analysis of our algorithms. Too many platforms now contact too often the experts they have in their database. The quality of their responses deteriorates over time. The experts who meet the demands of ideXlab do so because they are interested in the question they are asked, and because they feel able to provide the resource for answering or contributing. Others – not interested, not available – don’t bother to answer and that’s fine as well!

Finally, the openness: we calibrate our expert engagement campaigns to systematically interact with several of them in order to ensure a diversity of responses or opinions. The interaction facilitated by the platform also allows to very quick understanding on the basis of simple questions, the degree of the expert’s openness of and his/her ability to adapt to the context of the company.

The “good” expert is the rare resource of the innovative and competitive company in the 21st century. Fortunately, current technology allows for easy identification and linking. This is a significant step forward towards a more rewarding and effective collaboration between industry, academia and the world of experts in general.


Crowdsourcing and Open Innovation

Crowdsourcing, a concept born in mid 2000s in the USA, is one of the tools available to companies willing to embrace open innovation.

As a definition of Open Innovation, one could say that for a company, it represents the extension of the sphere of innovation actors. The crowdsourcing fully represents that logic.

Crowdsourcing consists of leveraging the collective intelligence of the crowd. Crowdsourcing = ‘sourcing’ from the crowd

In order to have a good understanding of how crowdsourcing works, one should answer the following questions:

➔ Sourcing what? What does the company wish to supply itself with? What is the company searching for?

➔ Sourcing from whom? Who are the people or the participants in that crowd that the company appeals to?

These questions have multiple answers but constants that exist, the ones that allow talking about crowdsourcing, are the following:

➔ Crowdsourcing involves innovation, in every sense. Therefore, the answer to the question “sourcing on what?” is: ideas, projects, concepts, or even simple advice.

➔ The question “sourcing from whom?” should be answered more generally: from a great number of people. Without that, one cannot talk about crowdsourcing!

We’ll quote several practical cases to have a better understanding of what it means in concrete terms.

Practical example number 1: a company wishes to launch a new product but they are not sure that it will meet the demand and they would like to make enquiries to the public about the improvements that could be brought. Through a crowdsourcing platform, this company asks thousands of participants to give their opinion about the product and to potential improvements to it.

Practical example number 2: a company wishes to launch a new advertising campaign that highlights the advantages of their products. However, they couldn’t find the powerful message that would turn the operation into a success. To get there, they decide to ask net surfers on their Facebook page to imagine the most efficient and most original message. They will offer a reward to the best proposals with a voucher, free products etc.

Practical example number 3: a company reflects upon a new manner of communicating. They wish to adapt their communication strategy to new channels but they don’t have the necessary expertise. Therefore, they decide leverage a  crowdsourcing platform in order to have the highest number of contributions possible.  The participant who will have the most innovative idea will receive 1,000 Euros.

Practical example number 4: a company wishes to improve its brand image. To do so, they decide to launch a call for projects called “building a better world” on their website. The participants could suggest projects aimed at eradicating world hunger, preventing wars, limiting epidemics, reducing unemployment, any of that within a limited, previously established budget. A voting system will be put in place to elect the winner: to get a higher number of votes, the authors are invited to share their projects on Facebook, therefore multiplying the reach of the contest.

As one can see, crowdsourcing can have very varied applications. For the company, it can be used either to conceive or to optimize a new product, to create an advertising campaign or to simply improve its image before the public. The crowdsourcing operations can be made on dedicated platforms (nowadays, there are hundreds of them), on the company’s website or directly on social networks.

There are multiple advantages to crowdsourcing:

  • Crowdsourcing is an economical solution. To boost participation prize systems can  be put in place but costs are fully controlled.
  • Crowdsourcing allows the participation of a great number of people. Certain crowdsourcing campaigns can involve a million participants. With so many brains connected together, this can only produce very promising results!
  • Crowdsourcing allows the development of closer connections between the company and the public, as well as the adaptation of brand communication.

picture credits

Frugal Innovation, definition and practical examples

India invented the “Jugaad” or “frugal innovation”

Meet Sam Pitroda

Jugaad was popularized by Sam Pitroda, founder of C-DOT, who has developed and popularized telecommunications in India. Frugal innovation can be defined as “the commercialization, in the context of limited resources, of quality products and services that are affordable to the masses.” This has been the principle applied by Sam Pitroda when developing the famous network of tens of millions of token-phones in the country. Nowadays, as leader of the National Innovation Council, he dedicates himself to making India the country of innovation by 2030. Get to know him with this interview from Euronews.

Visionary? Maybe, but in any case his concept of frugal innovation had a great echo in developing countries as well as in developed countries facing a financial crisis.

Indian ambition and worldwide opportunity

Sam Pitroda’s vision of frugal innovation is societal and it aims at reducing poverty, producing accessible innovations for the most impoverished and allowing the improvement their condition. He resumes it by  saying that “the great brains work too much on solving the problems of the rich” and at the same time on designing new products that feed the overconsumption of rich countries. He preaches the development of innovative frugal projects with social impact.

The opportunity perceived in developed countries is a little bit different. It’s generally accepted that the ever increasing investments that are necessary to innovate are no longer sustainable. This happens particularly in a period of economical stagnation. To sum up, three complaints are made regarding the structure of the Western innovation:

 too expensive: innovative companies spend colossal amounts (600 billions in 2011) in their R&D and innovation process, and those amounts increase mechanically as the processes become more complex and as the technologies are miniaturizing. And yet, the results are not always there, particularly when the need is badly understood or it’s overrun by an innovation cycle that takes too long.

– too “precluding”, innovation rests upon a limited population (engineers, researchers) and aims at a reduced audience (limited high range markets). Whereas innovation could be inspired by a much larger population: employees, clients, suppliers and it could also aim at the “non-clients” beyond the original target.

– too slow because it relies on complex and restrictive processes.

Therefore, the innovation process has to develop in three directions:

– the agility through interaction between users and designers. The practice is well-developed in the software industry (Agile) but it’s much less developed for the manufactured products.

– the ”inclusiveness” or the opening towards the greatest sources of ideas, external competences and the largest target audiences.

– the conception or the frugal innovation, or how to make more with little, which also requires to value ingenuity rather than only heavy engineering.

When setting up projects and teams that rely on these principles there is indeed a great challenge not to compromise with product’s quality. But the benefits can be considerable: do more, cheaper and for the largest markets is a promise that no company can neglect !

So what’s the role of open innovationin all of this? It brings the necessary opening towards external contributions, ideas, as well as technological solutions. This is a core component in frugal innovation as it offers means of being attentive, reactive and innovative with smaller budgets.

Examples of frugality

The Indian Mangalyaan spacecraft for Mars was developed 3 times faster and it involved spending that was 10 times lower than for the one designed by NASA, through the reuse of existing components. It reached the Martian orbit in September 2014!

Schneider Electric with its BiBop program aims to offer solutions for affordable  energy and for a new business model, like the low-cost LED lighting solution In-Diya.

Renault and Dacia: Frugal engineering is the term used by Carlos Ghosn rather than frugal innovation to resume the company’s orientation towards low-cost cars, allowing other markets to be reached. The success of Dacia cars in Europe is also demonstrative!

Tata Motors takes it even further with Nano, a $2,000 car developed by the Indian company.

Essilor and its 2.5 New Vision Generation pursue a strategy of economic inclusion with the main goal of offering access to visual correction for 2.5 billion people that are excluded at the moment.

In 2005, the MIT already suggested the conception of a 100 USD computer for developing countries through the project “One Laptop per Child” which would have been deployed in almost 1.5M units.

Twitter Accounts to follow on this subject:

picture credits and


Open Innovation Examples

This article proposes a few examples of companies that have chosen the path of open innovation.

Innovation is more than ever in the core of the corporate strategy, no matter what the size of the company is. The intensification of competition in a global economy requires new innovation forms and capacities. Nowadays, a company that doesn’t innovate is jeopardizing its existence.

The men and women that lead the big companies are aware of that. But if we say innovation we also say investment. And companies, especially in a time of economic downturn, don’t have the means to allocate colossal amounts to research and innovation.

This is when open innovation makes sense and becomes important.

In this article, we would like to list a certain number of examples of companies that have chosen the path of open innovation.

PSA Peugeot Citroën

In 2011, the French car manufacturer has launched a collaborative project to design the cars of the future and aimed at multiplying the company’s partnerships with scientific laboratories all around the world.

This project materialized into the creation of a network of OpenLabs. These structures are designed to allow the encounter between the group’s research centers and the external partners. They have a goal of thinking about the future of the automotive industry, particularly according to scientific advances. For example, a partnership has been established between PSA and the Institute of Movement Sciences of Marseille.

Other Open Innovation exmaples follow.


It’s well-known that Coca-Cola keeps the recipe of its famous drink secret. That is probably why the American company didn’t choose open innovation for developing its products. However, their program “Shaping a Better Future” allows internet visitors to suggest solutions to real society problems (for example unemployment or the environment). Afterwards, Coca-Cola selects the best project and offers its author $50,000 to put the project into practice. The winner is selected according to the intrinsic value of the project but also according to the number of votes it had received. To obtain the greatest number of votes possible, Coca-Cola encourages the authors of the projects to share them on social networks, especially on Facebook. This program obviously aims at improving the image of Coca-Cola. An open innovation project can also do that!

Briefly, more open innovation examples:

➔ The Audi car manufacturer has launched the Audi Production Award. It is a contest that invites the participants to think about the car of the future. The winner receives a trophy as well as 5,000 Euros.

Procter & Gamble  has published the list of technical problems that their team wasn’t able to solve or hasn’t solved on time on its website. They make a call to all the web surfers who may have the magic solution. Every idea is welcome!

➔ GE have launched their program Ecomagination Challenge. Its goal? To collect ideas from entrepreneurs, students and any other innovative people, regarding problems connected to energy.

➔ The HP (Hewlett Packard) IT company has created open innovation laboratories for allowing worldwide researchers to work together and for initiating partnerships between the HP teams and external scientists.

➔ The Danish Lego Company has gone the longest way on the path of open innovation. And this is already happening for many years (MindStorms, Lego Ambassador, Lego Factory and lastly the Lego Cuuso…). It’s no surprise then that Lego is often nominated in open innovation studies. In every one of their operations/programs, Lego makes a point of honor by having their fans participate in the evolution of their product lines. Nothing could be more efficient in bonding the Lego community, made out of young and less young people.

➔ Local Motors is a start-up created in 2007 by a former marine, Jay Rogers. The design of a new car requires years of work and generally costs millions of Euros. To save time and money, Local Motors has decided to use crowdsourcing. Its original approach has allowed this small company to conquer important market shares. The fortunate winners of the industrial design contests could also receive royalties from the car sales.

As we can see from these examples (there are still many others to mention…) open innovation has multiple advantages and surely has a bright future ahead of it. It offers advantages in terms of efficiency and in terms of savings and as we’ve seen in the Coca-Cola example, also in terms of brand image.