Please note, these answers reflect only our views and are not in reference to any specific organization in particular
1. What is open technology?
In broad terms, open technology means you have access to the underlying intellectual property that makes the technology and applications you use possible. You have access to inspect, understand, modify, use and build upon the open technology to fit your purposes.
From a software standpoint: open software means you have access to the human-readable source code which you can then use to build the executable(binary) copies of the programs/applications you use.
You can use these programs much like you use any other proprietary program, however the real value is that you or anyone can open, learn and modify the code such that it can be improved and/or adapted to meet your needs. (e.g. removing or adding features, but also having transparency with privacy and security concerns)
From a hardware standpoint: open hardware means you have access to the necessary design files (electrical, mechanical, industrial …etc ) which are used to mass manufacture multiple copies of the products you use everyday.
These design files can be opened and modified such that products are designed to last (there is no economic incentive for guided obsolesce). Furthermore existent hardware can be adapted to meet new needs or satisfy new markets without the necessity of costly and wasteful re-designs due to proprietary(patented) technology.
2. What is closed/proprietary technology?
Closed and proprietary technology means the intellectual property underlying the products and services you use is completely hidden and inaccessible to you. You are granted limited permission to use the copies you purchase.
From a software standpoint: proprietary software means you do not have access to human-readable source code, it is used to generate the executable(binary) copies.
You can then purchase(license) these copies and use for a certain time under the applicable legal conditions (see EULA, Terms of Service).
From a hardware standpoint: proprietary hardware means you do not have access to product design files. These are used to manufacture identical copies of consumer goods which you can then purchase.
These products are normally shipped with terms and conditions which grant you certain rights to use the product but forbid you from opening, or reverse engineering the underlying hardware.
3. What is wrong with proprietary technology?
Blind dependence on technology and continuous exposure to manipulative marketing leads to misjudgment and unhealthy consumption habits.
It is important to realize that free markets fail when consumers have inaccurate and incomplete information about the items they are purchasing. It is only when both sides (consumers and suppliers) have the information they need that you can have a fair negotiation and an efficient and equitable outcome.
The problem we face as consumers is that there is an economic incentive for suppliers to hide information that could help us understand the real value of the goods we use.
In fact, it is often far easier and more profitable to manipulate the perceived value of a product through good (yet sometimes dishonest) advertising campaigns than it is to invest to improve it. Often a harmful illusion of technology as magic is sold to consumers, and thus our consumption judgment is greatly impaired. We are no longer investing in the real and honest technology we need, but in the next magic show in town, this is not sustainable.
When we base our consumption decisions on inaccurate or misleading information:
- We lose our freedom of choice: We are told what we need and we continuously overspend to purchase items we don’t really need.
- We lose our savings: Our continuous overspending makes saving for our future impossible and makes us specially vulnerable to the use of credit.
- We hurt the environment: Though high demand is great for businesses, over-utilization depletes natural resources. Companies are mass manufacturing items we don’t need which quickly end up in our landfills.
- We are often overcharged: Because we have no knowledge of the value of the technology we use, we are often sold overcharged products with nice looking cases.
- We give away our privacy: Because we have no access to the underlying engineering behind the products we use, companies add functionality to learn of the places we frequent, track the websites we visit and monitor our behavior and consumption choices. This data is then be sold to advertising agencies or given to government institutions.
- We are constantly buying upgrades: Our technology suddenly becomes obsolete and we are encouraged (and sometimes coerced) to dispose of our existing functional technology to purchase the new and upgraded.
- We stop learning: We are told we don’t need to; new is always best. Advertisers can teach us everything we need to know to reap the benefits of technology. The good news is we don’t need to think about the science and engineering behind technology (that takes effort). The bad news is that advertisers don’t need to either.
However, proprietary technology does benefit a few. Technology suppliers understand that it is not the consumer good that is truly valuable but the intellectual property behind it. Having the underlying design means they are able to manufacture distributable copies of a product which they can then sell to consumers. Furthermore, access to technical knowledge means managers have the accurate and complete information they need to better allocate their capital and maximize their returns.
But unfortunately, we have a recipe for inequality. As long as proprietary technology continues to be our standard for product development, knowledge and power will reside in the hands of a few, companies will have an incentive to manipulate us and we will continue to become dependent and overspend on technology we don’t need and are not meant to understand.
4. Why invest in open technology?
Open technology is simply a different way to invest in the products and services we need. Instead of purchasing the last fashionable product, we invest directly in the underlying intellectual property. Thus, we get technology we can use, modify and build upon, but also open knowledge we can all learn from. In other words, investing in open technology means a better return for each individual plus a substantial economic return for the community.
But open technology also makes us better consumers. Open means we have access to honest and transparent information about the products and services we use,
directly from the people who make them. Therefore consumers and suppliers can now negotiate on equal grounds and we can have a more efficient and equitable outcome for all.
But change won’t come from suppliers. A growing knowledge gap poses great economic benefits to large technology companies and they have great incentives to lobby and perpetuate the current proprietary system. Change must come from us, consumers.
For open technology to succeed, we must recognize the value of the tools we use and the cost of developing the technologies under which they rely; Open technology is not a free lunch.
5. What is Open Intellectual Property (OIP)?
Please note that while many people in many “open/libre movements” will disagree with the use of the term intellectual property, the term is familiar to the public and it helps convey an important message. when teaching a concept, an initial explanation does not need to be scientifically correct (that will come later), it needs to be useful to convey a message, otherwise it could be correct but totally useless.
In general terms, intellectual property is any product of the human intellect that the law protects from unauthorized use by others.
For Proprietary Technology: The ownership of intellectual property through multiple legal instruments inherently creates a limited monopoly in the protected property.
For Open Technology: The ownership of the intellectual property means that it is funded by the public and belongs in the public domain. Multiple legal instruments can be used to forbid individual players from closing the technology and any derivative works (see copyleft).
6. Can you make money with Open Technology?
After all it is free, isn’t it? No it is not free, and yes you can make money with Open Technology, though the business models will need to change.
Keep in mind that Code is not a product: the majority of consumers don’t care about the source code, they care about the application. i.e. it is code plus all of the value added items and services that ultimately make a consumer product successful. Understanding what these value-added items and services are holds the key to understanding the kind of business models that will work for open technology.
Furthermore every type of consumer requires a differently “packaged” product i.e. the value added items and services differ for different types of consumers. The goal then is to understand the value added items and services that are required for each user-type and the revenues that can be generated by them.
By diligently doing a fixed/variable cost analysis for the development of the open technology, and calculating the possible revenue obtained from the product value-added items and services one can come up with potential business models.