My colleague, Dan Hunter, and John Quiggin have a new paper out entitled “Money Ruins Everything.” The paper looks at the new platforms for amateur ‘innovation.’ Their main examples are the Internet, blogs, citizen journalism and open source software. In each case, the main providers of services are not your traditional corporates with large capital budgets. Indeed, there are many more, small scale and low capital operators working seemingly for love rather than money.
Of course, this is seen as something new. Alas, these two academics forget that for as long as we can remember, people innovating for love rather than money have been around and they are …. us. And by us, I mean we academics. Innovating for love is what we do and we have a whole set of institutions that have evolved to make that work in the modern economy (namely, the University system). This is something I discuss in my submission to the National Innovation Review. It is important and it is forgotten. Indeed, the Internet — which is the enabling general purpose technology for amateur hour — was first constructed to support academic research. Moreover, the whole argument that it is “hard to compete with free” came up when commercial science wanted access to government grants and believed that the system was not competitively neutral. So I don’t think Internet innovation is so “radical” even if it is very important.
Not surprisingly, I agree with the Hunter-Quiggin argument that innovation policy, and in particular IP policy, needs to accommodate amateur innovation by removing impediments to building on the work of others. This is, of course, critical in the scientific realm and we have for too long been imposing greater constraints on scientists (especially in this country) rather than freeing the system up so they can do what they do best, science. (This again is in my submission to the NIR). But this also as also an impediment to grass-roots innovation — something, JK Rowling is yet to learn.