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Open innovation – or just joining forces?

Last week, the news about the teaming up between Yahoo and Microsoft was all over the news. As if two companies trying to copy the behavior of a third one would lead to a dramatic change (more on that later). Most European news agencies overlooked an event that can change the world much more. The MSFT-YHOO deal seems to be about capitalist forces joining for destruction, while the second one is using the forces of capitalism to be a constructive part of global society. Oddly, Bill Gates is involved in both events…

Patents are necessary to protect the investments a company has made, but when patents become a weapon against (literally) millions of poor people, we might consider more creative ways to protect our interests. And that is precisely what happened last weeks: several large pharmaceutical companies have announced initiatives that allow patients in poor countries (most of them being located in Africa) to access medicines, while the commercial interests are still covered:

  1. GlaxoSmithKline announced, according to The Economist, a couple of weeks ago that they would waive patent restrictions on their most important AIDS-medicine called Abacavir. Producers of generic drugs can now sell medicines based hereon in poor countries. This comes on top of an earlier announcement that GSK was sharing outcomes of research and patents related to HIV with their rival Pfizer. Both companies believe they can benefit from this deal and accelerate the drug development.
  2. Novartis announced to collaborate with the Institute for One World Health to develop a drug that will cure a kind of diarrhea, that is amongst the most important causes of death for children in poor countries
  3. And the one that surprised (or pleased?) me most, was the fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation supplied the money to develop software to analyze all patents database, which are not at all in the same standards and therefore difficult to compare, to allow a better collaboration between researchers of medicines all over the world. This initiative, called the Global Initiative for Open Innovation, is initiated by Cambia and the Queensland University of Technology (Australia). Their idea is that if collaboration is not working, greater openness will.

When Koen Pellegrims and myself started Agyx, we made a strong commitment to understand and help in initiatives that work around open innovation. We still do. As far as people had understood what open innovation is all about, we had mostly negative comments:

  • “Open innovation would never work.“
  • “No company will even open its patents database to the world.”
  • “No enterprise can afford to hope that the crowd will make their innovation work.“
  • “We are market leader, open innovation will not be for us”

and so on. I’m happy to see that open innovation, in various forms, is now becoming a part of doing business in this age.

Things that make me hopeful:

  1. large corporations seem to understand that letting a continent die, is not good for business in the future;
  2. open innovation is seen as a weapon in doing better business, not as an invention promoted by freaks;
  3. when entrepreneurs are willing to think on larger scale and long term, new dynamics appear for them;

Koen Blanquart

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This entry was posted on Friday, July 31st, 2009 at 9:07 and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Written by: Koen Blanquart

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