Joel West’s
Research on Openness Strategies

A major emphasis of Joel’s research has been how firms selectively use openness to gain competitive advantage — or develop strategies that mitigate the effects of exogenous (or endogenous) openness. This page provides an annotated subset of his papers directly related to this topic.

Unofficial copies of the paper are available by clicking on the title of the paper. Official copies (where copyright permits) can be reached by clicking on the DOI, by browsing the issue date or e-mailing the author.

These papers are only about firms deliberately using (or mitigating) the effects of openness. See also Joel’s full list of open innovation, open source and open standards research.


Joel West and Michael Mace, “Browsing as the killer app: Explaining the rapid success of Apple’s iPhone,” Telecommunications Policy, 34, 5-6 (June-July 2010): 270-286. DOI: 10.1016/j.telpol.2009.12.002
Although the iPhone is a vertically integrated proprietary platform controlled by Apple, it succeeds because of two forms of selective openness. First, Apple provides unprecedented mobile access to the free Internet, supplanting the operator-controlled walled gardens. Second, its iPhone App Store reduces the entry barriers for software developers large and small through a common distribution mechanism, even if Apple tightly controls access to this channel.

Joel West and Siobhán O’Mahony, “The Role of Participation Architecture in Growing Sponsored Open Source Communities,” Industry & Innovation, 15, 2 (April 2008): 145-168. DOI: 10.1080/ 13662710801970142
A successor to our oft-quoted 2005 conference paper, this perhaps provides the first empirical evidence comparing sponsored open source communities with the better known independent communities. It draws the contrast between two types of openness: transparency and accessibility. It also identifies three dimensions of openness for open source communities: production, governance and IP. (See my July 2008 blog summary of the article). This is also the focus of my April 1, 2010 column in Business Week entitled “Letting Go Is Hard To Do.”

Joel West, “The Economic Realities of Open Standards: Black, White and Many Shades of Gray,” in Shane Greenstein and Victor Stango, eds., Standards and Public Policy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 87-122.
This paper demonstrates the inaccuracy of the conventional bifurcation of standards as “open” or “closed.” Instead, it shows how openness is both a continuous attribute and a multi-dimensional one. It also distinguishes between openness to different stakeholders (e.g. complementors or rivals), and identifies openness as a challenger’s second choice strategy if it fails to establish its own proprietary standard.

Joel West, “Seeking Open Infrastructure: Contrasting Open Standards, Open Source and Open Innovation,” First Monday, 12, 6 (June 2007).
This paper contrasts three commonly discussed forms of openness: open standards, open source and open innovation, identifying both the overlaps and the key differences.

Joel West, “Value Capture and Value Networks in Open Source Vendor Strategies,” Proceedings of the 40th Annual Hawai‘i International Conference on System Sciences, Waikoloa, Hawai‘i (Jan. 2007). DOI: 10.1109/HICSS.2007.600
This paper focuses on the tension between value creation and value capture in open source business models, and the strategies that firms use to gain advantage.

Joel West and Scott Gallagher, “ Challenges of Open Innovation: The Paradox of Firm Investment in Open Source Software,” R&D Management, 36, 3 (June 2006): 315-328. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9310.2006.00436.x
The goals of open innovation are maximizing returns to internal innovation, incorporating external innovation, and motivating a supply of external innovations. From data on firm open source strategies, it identifies four different strategies: pooled R&D (consortium model), spinout (to communities), selling complements or incentivizing donated complements.

Joel West and Scott Gallagher, “Patterns of Open Innovation in Open Source Software,” in Henry Chesbrough, Wim Vanhaverbeke and Joel West, eds., Open Innovation: Researching a New Paradigm, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 82-106.
In the discussion section, this chapter examines the relationship of “open source” and “open innovation” how they are overlapping conceptual categories but not equivalent or interchangeable.

Joel West, “Does Appropriability Enable or Retard Open Innovation?” in Henry Chesbrough, Wim Vanhaverbeke and Joel West, eds., Open Innovation: Researching a New Paradigm, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 109-133.
This paper considers how open innovation often requires a proprietary IP strategy, such as the use of patents or other proprietary entry barriers to mitigate against the risks of openness.

Joel West, “The fall of a Silicon Valley icon: Was Apple really Betamax redux?”; in Richard A. Bettis, ed., Strategy in Transition, Oxford: Blackwell, 2005, pp. 274-301.
Pundits often claim Apple’s troubles of the 1990s were due to its proprietary platform strategy, specifically its failure to allow cloning or otherwise license its technology. Instead, the paper points to a simple explanation: the company’s ongoing problems with execution in areas such as R&D and supply chain management, and how its fiscal turnaround in 1998-2000 was entirely attributable to correcting these problems, while its platform strategy became more closed during this period.

Joel West, “How Open is Open Enough? Melding Proprietary and Open Source Platform Strategies, Research Policy 32, 7 (July 2003): 1259-1285. DOI: 10.1016/S0048- 7333(03)00052-0
Four ideas from this paper are often cited: 1) That firms selectively use openness to gain advantage; 2) The use of openness as a strategy to win adoption; 3) Fine-tuning openness to be just “open enough” to not give up proprietary advantage, by “opening parts” or being “partly open”; 4) A gradation of openness in platform strategies, with open source platforms (like Linux) being the most open.

Joel West and Jason Dedrick, “Open Source Standardization: The Rise of Linux in the Network Era,Knowledge, Technology & Policy, 14, 2 (Summer 2001): 88-112.
This paper is one of the first published academic papers about why firms would use open source as a competitive strategy.

Joel West and Jason Dedrick, “Innovation and Control in Standards Architectures: The Rise and Fall of Japan’s PC-98,” Information Systems Research, 11, 2 (June 2000): 197-216.
This paper talks about how IBM created DOS/V, a software-defined open PC standards layer, which reduced costs and increased competition in the Japanese PC market. Together, IBM and other DOS/V PC makers displaced the long-time market leader, NEC’s PC-98, which eventually switched to DOS/V. The paper also is an early progenitor of research on platforms, which it refers to as “standards architectures.”

Blog Postings

Not surprisingly, a frequent topic in my blogs is about the selective use of openness. In particular, see posts from the Open IT Strategies blog on:

and of course my academic-oriented Open Innovation blog.

Last Updated August 13, 2010

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