Definition & Examples of Open Innovation: Companies that have taken the plunge

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Definition & Examples of Open Innovation: Companies that have taken the plunge

Open Innovation: Examples of Companies

This article proposes a few examples of companies that have chosen the path of open innovation. But first of all, let’s define the term “Open Innovation” together.

Definition of Open Innovation

Picture of Henry Chesbrough

Open Innovation is a concept introduced in the early 2000s by a research professor at the University of Berkley named Henry Chesbrough.

Open Innovation is the fact that a company opens its R&D department to external people or, internally, to employees from other departments. These outsiders are usually researchers and experts in a field or technology. More generally, a company can also rely on different actors with different resources such as customers, students, the crowd (also known as collective intelligence) or other companies.

Innovative companies encounter several types of situations that may justify the use of an Open Innovation “outside in” and “inside out” approach.. Three main ones can be mentioned:

  • The need to apprehend a new emerging technology, to understand its potential impact on the company’s market, competitive risks or new opportunities. This need is typically described by an ‘outside-in‘ approach in the Open Innovation vocabulary (Chesbrough, 2003).
  • The need to maximize the return on investment of a technology developed by the company: is it possible to increase the return on investment by applying it to other needs, other markets? (an ‘inside-out‘ approach in the Open Innovation vocabulary)
  • The need to solve a technological or scientific issue for which the company does not have the competence and will seek external expertise (another form of “outside-in“).

Open Innovation involves various concepts such as co-development and intellectual property.

The deployment of Open Innovation generally requires a company to modify its internal innovation process.

What are the results of Open Innovation?

Open Innovation can give very satisfying results for companies that are taking the plunge. We also recommend that you read these two articles to get an idea: 

How to measure the results of Open Innovation? 

Open Innovation: does it really work? 

Examples of companies practicing 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 don’t have the means to allocate colossal amounts to research and innovation, or the time to wait to build a new competency from scratch.

This is when open innovation makes sense and becomes important.

Here we cite a number of examples of companies that have taken the path of open innovation. This list will allow entrepreneurs and readers of this article to give more substance and flesh to a concept – open innovation – sometimes still unknown and sometimes too little (or poorly) put into practice. 


An example of open innovation that is easy to understand is the one led by Alstom on a century-old subject: the autumn fall of dead leaves on the rails – which disrupts train operations -. 

Alstom Transport had already re-examined this subject, but decided to systematically explore possible solutions to solve this problem or at least make radical progress in its resolution.

And even when you think you know everything about a subject, you discover through Open Innovation that science and technology never stop!

A major pharmaceutical group

In this example of Open Innovation, we do not have the authorization to reveal the identity of our client. That’s right! Openness is not contradictory with confidentiality and data security, quite the contrary! 

On the other hand, the example shows how Open Innovation makes it possible to considerably increase the avenues of solutions envisaged even for complex subjects such as, for example, the development of a new molecule for therapeutic purposes. 

It also shows how, in the course of a conversation with an expert, unexpected solutions are discovered.

The Orange Group and its Open Innovation

The Orange Group, the world leader in telecommunications, is by definition very well connected! But implementing Open Innovation requires more than connectivity: it requires methods and tools. It combines connectivity with content, knowledge and the process of transforming that knowledge into innovation. The case study with the Orange Group highlights how the research community can also benefit from Open Innovation. 

Open Innovation Examples: 6 concrete cases of Open Innovation

Find other recent cases of large industrial groups and SMEs in a complementary compilation that gives an idea of the diversity of Open Innovation application cases. 

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, savings and also in terms of brand image.

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