The Vation Ventures Glossary

Open Innovation: Definition, Explanation, and Use Cases

In the realm of business and organizational strategy, 'Open Innovation' is a term that has gained significant traction in recent years. This concept, which fundamentally challenges traditional notions of innovation being a closed, internal process, is reshaping how companies approach problem-solving and value creation. This glossary article will delve into the intricacies of open innovation, providing a comprehensive understanding of its definition, explanation, and use cases.

Open Innovation is a paradigm shift that embraces external ideas and paths to market, in addition to internal ones. It is a concept that encourages organizations to use both internal and external ideas and resources to advance their operations. This approach is in stark contrast to the traditional model of innovation, which is often characterized by a closed, inward-looking approach. In the following sections, we will explore the various facets of open innovation in greater detail.

Definition of Open Innovation

The term 'Open Innovation' was coined by Henry Chesbrough, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in his 2003 book 'Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology'. Chesbrough defines open innovation as "a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology".

This definition highlights the key characteristic of open innovation: the intentional collaboration with external entities to drive innovation. It underscores the belief that in a world of widely distributed knowledge, companies cannot afford to rely solely on their own research, but should instead buy or license processes or inventions (i.e., patents) from other companies. In addition, internal inventions not being used in a firm's business should be taken outside the company (e.g., through licensing, joint ventures, spin-offs).

Key Elements of Open Innovation

Open Innovation is characterized by several key elements, each of which contributes to the overall approach. Firstly, there is the idea of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge. This means that organizations actively seek knowledge from outside their boundaries and also allow unused internal knowledge to flow out to be used by others. This bi-directional flow of knowledge is a fundamental aspect of open innovation.

Secondly, open innovation involves working with a wide range of external actors, including customers, suppliers, competitors, universities, research institutions, and even individual inventors. This extensive network of collaborators expands the organization's access to ideas and knowledge, thereby enhancing its innovative capacity.

Contrast with Closed Innovation

Open Innovation is often contrasted with the traditional model of 'Closed Innovation'. In the closed model, companies generate, develop, and commercialize ideas internally. They heavily invest in Research and Development (R&D) and maintain strict control over their intellectual property. The belief is that successful innovation requires control – control over the generation of ideas, the development of products, and the distribution of the finished goods.

However, the closed model has been criticized for its inefficiencies and limitations. For instance, it often leads to duplication of research, ignores external knowledge and ideas, and can result in unused or underutilized internal knowledge. Open Innovation, on the other hand, seeks to overcome these limitations by leveraging external knowledge and resources, and by ensuring that unused internal knowledge is put to good use.

Explanation of Open Innovation

Open Innovation is more than just a definition; it is a philosophy, a mindset, and a strategic approach that permeates an organization's culture and operations. It is about creating a system and processes that encourage and facilitate collaboration with external entities, and that allow for the free flow of ideas and knowledge both into and out of the organization.

This approach requires a significant shift in how organizations view and manage their intellectual property. Rather than guarding IP as a closely held secret, in an open innovation model, IP is seen as a tool that can be leveraged to facilitate collaboration and co-creation. This might involve licensing IP to others, or using IP to form strategic partnerships and alliances.

Open Innovation Processes

Open Innovation involves several key processes, including ideation, knowledge acquisition, collaboration, and commercialization. Ideation involves generating ideas for new products, services, or processes, and can involve both internal and external sources. Knowledge acquisition refers to the process of acquiring knowledge from external sources, such as through licensing or partnerships.

Collaboration is a key aspect of open innovation, and involves working closely with external partners to develop and refine ideas. This could involve co-development agreements, joint ventures, or other forms of collaboration. Finally, commercialization involves bringing the developed product, service, or process to market, and can involve both internal and external paths to market.

Role of Technology in Open Innovation

Technology plays a crucial role in facilitating open innovation. Digital platforms, social media, and other online tools enable organizations to connect with a global network of collaborators. They also provide tools for managing the collaboration process, from idea generation and development, to testing and commercialization.

For instance, online innovation platforms can be used to crowdsource ideas from a global community, while collaboration tools can facilitate communication and coordination among geographically dispersed teams. Data analytics tools can be used to analyze and evaluate ideas, and digital prototyping tools can speed up the development process.

Use Cases of Open Innovation

Open Innovation has been adopted by a wide range of organizations, from small startups to large multinational corporations, and across various industries. These organizations have leveraged open innovation to enhance their innovative capacity, accelerate product development, and drive growth.

Below are some illustrative use cases of open innovation, highlighting how organizations have successfully implemented this approach.

Procter & Gamble's Connect + Develop Program

Procter & Gamble (P&G), the multinational consumer goods company, is often cited as a leading example of open innovation. In 2001, P&G launched its Connect + Develop program, with the aim of sourcing 50% of its innovations from outside the company. The program involves working with external partners, such as suppliers, customers, and even competitors, to co-develop new products and technologies.

Through this program, P&G has been able to significantly increase its innovation success rate, reduce its time to market, and drive growth. Some of the successful products developed through this program include the Swiffer Dusters, which was developed in partnership with a Japanese company, and the Olay Regenerist, which was developed in collaboration with a supplier.

IBM's InnovationJam

IBM, the multinational technology company, has also leveraged open innovation through its InnovationJam events. These are online brainstorming sessions that bring together employees, customers, partners, and even family members, to generate ideas for new products and services. The ideas generated through these events are then evaluated and developed by IBM's research and development team.

One of the successful products to emerge from these events is the IBM Watson, a cognitive computing system that uses artificial intelligence to answer questions posed in natural language. The idea for Watson was first proposed during an InnovationJam event, and was then developed and commercialized by IBM.

LEGO's Ideas Platform

LEGO, the Danish toy company, has also embraced open innovation through its LEGO Ideas platform. This online platform allows fans to submit their own ideas for new LEGO sets. If a submitted idea receives 10,000 votes from the community, it is reviewed by a LEGO review board and has the chance to become an official LEGO product.

This approach has allowed LEGO to tap into the creativity of its fan base, and has resulted in several successful products, such as the LEGO Ghostbusters set and the LEGO Minecraft set. It also fosters a strong sense of community and engagement among LEGO fans.


Open Innovation represents a significant shift in how organizations approach innovation. By embracing external ideas and resources, and by allowing unused internal knowledge to flow out, organizations can enhance their innovative capacity, accelerate product development, and drive growth.

While open innovation presents numerous benefits, it also requires a significant shift in mindset and approach. Organizations need to create systems and processes that facilitate collaboration and the free flow of knowledge, and they need to manage their intellectual property in a way that supports these objectives. Despite these challenges, the potential rewards of open innovation make it a compelling approach for organizations seeking to thrive in today's fast-paced, knowledge-driven economy.