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U.S. needs to embrace 'open innovation' or be left behind

November 01, 2010

While antiquated business models and organizations entrenched in tradition are still the norm in America, open innovation by some of the most progressive businesses and universities in our country, plus a new generation of tech-savvy entrepreneurs, are poised to change the way the United States does business.

A forum, “Can Open Innovation Regain America’s Competitive Edge?” convened by Arizona State University President Michael Crow, brought together eight leading “open innovators” from around the United States to discuss the concept of open innovation in the private, academic, and non-profit sectors of our economy. The forum took place on Oct. 29, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“Open innovation is about collaboration – among firms, public-private partnerships, universities and industry, consumers and producers, etc.,” said Mitzi Montoya, executive dean of Technology and Innovation at ASU. 

Montoya suggested that it’s a movement away from closed, proprietary ways of doing business to open, innovative systems where previously disconnected stakeholders, and sometimes even competitors, collaborate to leverage resources and tap disparate knowledge.

Panelists discussed challenges to open innovation, and agreed that across all industries there are common issues:  traditional business models that reinforce proprietary thinking; government policy that has allowed too many technology monopolies through patents and IP copyrights; a lack of resources (both financial and viable partners); and as panelist Matthew Von Ertfelda of Marriott International described it “an inherent fear of change.”

The Internet and the personal computer were mentioned as the best examples of using open innovation practices, and it was suggested that the world wide web would not exist as is does today without Linux and its open source software. Panelists offered that “cloud computing” is poised to further revolutionize the open innovation universe.

“The only way we are going to solve all our problems is by having more problem solvers” said Diana Wells, President of Ashoka.  She went on to explain that the old model of having a business hub is being re-discovered on the internet, and that in the non-profit world, the best ideas are being shared so that “anyone can take the idea and run with it for the betterment of society.”

Panelists were optimistic that their ideas to speed up the acceptance of open innovation are gaining ground. Universities such as ASU are working to make “doing business” with the university easier by streamlining technology transfer and encouraging students to think and act like entrepreneurs. Companies such as Intel are incentivizing innovation and Xerox is focusing on needs-driven models of innovation. In addition, many of the panelists echoed the need for government to re-examine the IP copyright laws and that alone could drastically level the playing field for open innovation.

The forum was moderated by ASU President Michael Crow and featured eight leaders in open innovation, including Mitzi Montoya, ASU’s new executive dean of Innovation and Technology. Other panelists include Diana Wells, president, Ashoka; Amy Stursberg, executive director, Blackstone Charitable Foundation; Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO, Red Hat Inc.; Santokh Badesha, Xerox Fellow and manager of Open Innovation, Xerox Corporation; Matthew Von Ertfelda, vice president of Insight, Strategy, and Innovation, Marriott International; Chris S. Thomas, chief strategist & director of Architecture, World Ahead, Intel Corporation; and Rob Pegoraro, consumer technology columnist, The Washington Post.

Written by Kate Wells, (602) 703-5231