Defending freedom to innovate

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The freedom to innovate underlies open source, open standards, open data and more globally, open knowledge issues. It is one of the most fundamental liberties on which our new digital, interconnected, meshed society is currently developing.

Whereas nothing endures but change, our society tends to inexorably forget about it, and behave as if things would always stay the same. Only one way out though : adapt or die. Find a way to deal with changes, or disappear, just as former, and yet quite advanced civilizations did before us.

How to adapt ? By solving problems one by one and doing so, improving the existing. Taking things as they are and introducing new elements that somehow, will make the difference in a positive way. We call that “innovating” - from its Latin origin 'innovare' which means 'renewing'.

Innovation is indeed at the heart of how to adapt to changes. Progress is necessary and shall remain, as such, on top of priorities. We need innovation to survive, and move on towards a better life.

The current system does raise some concerns though, since you can nowadays not simply take things as they are to improve them. Creativity is indeed highly controlled by so called Intellectual Property mechanisms to make sure a bunch of happy few corporations and wealthy intermediaries get all the economical benefit it might incidentally generate.

Because yes, innovation does generate profits, our society tends to mix up indicators, natural consequences of a healthy order of things, with the initial purpose of what innovation originally stands for, namely finding solutions to problems life throws on our path.

With such model, a full category of innovators are put aside. All of those who lack resources - either financial or human - to go through those control points that the system has artificially created to protect financial investement - assuming the latter is the condition to innovation.

This situation is concerning, and even more while facing a global crisis : we are indeed currently not anymore in a position to allow discrimination among innovators. Quite the opposite in fact : we are in such a hurry to find solutions that we absolutely need to involve as many people as possible to work on how to adapt to current challenges - not to say emergencies - from social, environmental and economical perspectives, which are the three pillars for sustainable development.

“Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix obvious to someone” - lesson number 8 of Eric Raymond in the Cathedral and the Bazaar. Sounds basic and does not only apply to sofware development : the more there will be people working on an issue, the more chance we will get to have it fixed.

Every single mind can thus make the difference. Innovative people shall not be set aside.

In order to stop discrimination among innovators, what we need to do today is to proclaim the freedom to innovate. The freedom for anyone to take an interest in a given concern, study what has been done so far and improve it, without going through a complicated process aimed at eliminating he who does not have a large wallet.

Also, “keep in mind that imagination is at the heart of all innovation”, as physician Albert-Laszlo Barabási highlighted : “crush or constrain it and the fun will vanish.”

The possibilities for innovation have become limitless. In a world in constant changes, and to face tomorrow's growing challenges, it is essential to enhance our digital society together with the freedom to innovate so that each and any one can freely share solutions to existing problems - and doing so, help building a better world.

By A. M. Combes
Open World Forum 2013

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