Microsoft is not viewed as an open source proponent, but a key executive said Wednesday the company recognized the benefits of open source and was becoming more open itself.
David Kaefer, director of Business Development, Intellectual Property and Licensing at Microsoft, said open source had bolstered innovation in a distributed fashion, and he called the open source software movement a "very powerful force in the industry."
"I think one of the exciting things about the open source software movement is it actually brought together a very distributed group of developers," Kaefer said, speaking at "Business of Innovation," a Valley Speakers Series event held at Microsoft's Silicon Valley offices.
Microsoft does have a stake in open source, he said. "Certainly, it’s not as big a bet as a company like IBM would be making in open source.”
Microsoft has partnered with the open source community, linking up with companies such as JBoss, SugarCRM and XenSource, Kaefer said. And it is leveraging open source in its Open XML Translator project, which will enable its Office suite to support the OpenDocument Format standard.
Emphasizing Microsoft's intention to be more open, Kaefer said, the company is doing more to open up its protocols and license formats, such as its Office format. The company's Shared Source program, for its part, allows access to its code.
"Ironically, when you go all the way back to where Microsoft started the company, it was a company that actually was built on this open innovation philosophy of publishing our application programming interfaces for things like DOS and Windows," Kaefer said. "Now over time, I think other companies leapfrogged us in the ability to be open in a variety of different ways beyond just the API set."
Microsoft itself is bolstering its efforts in IP (intellectual property) licensing. The company is trying to understand how it can create technologies and find homes for some of those outside the company, according to Kaefer. Additionally, the company is exploring inbound IP acquisitions.
The company this week announced it has licensed 3-D technology codenamed TouchLight to Eon Reality.
Microsoft's willingness to experiment with business models, while already having a successful business model of its own, was applauded by event speaker Henry Chesbrough, executive director of the Center for Open Innovation in the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.
"They're actively experimenting with, in very careful ways, a variety of different things," Chesbrough said.
The event featured a variety of discussions on how companies can leverage intellectual property and on the changing landscape of technology development.
The United States has lost its technological hegemony, Chesbrough said. Companies need to leverage overseas talent not because of low labor costs, but to tap brain power, he said.
"If you're working at an organization or a company and you're not doing that, my suggestion to you is that's an error," said Chesbrough.
Touting the concept of open innovation, Chesbrough said companies can license technology to another company or bring in external technologies to target a new marketplace. With open innovation, companies use a theoretical funnel that lets technologies flow in and out, he explained.
He cited business models that could be used to benefit from IP, such as an orphan recovery program, in which technology not fitting with a big company’s business model can be used elsewhere. Acquiring IP from failed startups also is a possibility, as are sale-leaseback programs for IP.