Here at Black Swan, our output is often new tech and processes that our clients use to make significant improvements to their bottom line. But what happens to all this technology? It seems a bit of a waste to just deliver it to a single client – in fact why just share it with our clients, why not the wider world? Clearly, there are issues of intellectual property and competitive advantage that we need to honour, but blanket application of that reasoning in order to avoid sharing knowledge across the business and wider economy seems like we are losing something.
The problem is somewhat two-fold. At least some of the time, our delivery teams are not aware that the technology they are creating is ground breaking. To them, it is another round of coding, and once it is done and delivered, they are on to the next intriguing problem. Our delivery teams, by definition, tend to be supremely focussed on delivery, and sometimes it is difficult for them to take a step back and see the wider benefits of their work. Black Swan is still a small emerging business, and yet I am still struck by the rate at which innovations occur, and the amount of new and interesting thinking we are coming up with. I can only image the sheer volume of IP that Google, Microsoft or any of the giants of tech are producing.
I remember as a teenager (a nerdy one, clearly) visiting the Patent Office in London. I had a friend who wanted to know how a magic trick was achieved (many modern tricks are patented). I recall being totally awestruck that a room exists with shelf upon shelf of some of the most amazing (and ridiculous) ideas ever conceived. You can sit and read for hour upon hour about what problems defined – and were solved at – various times in history (of course you can now do this online). It also feels somewhat tragic – this room of knowledge, with many ideas just never pursued for one reason or another. Why has no-one produced that Taser attached to an attack dog’s head?
I would like to think that at Black Swan we can find a way to open up a little sometimes – to examine our work to see where else in the company and beyond it can be put to good use. Making sure that innovation is highlighted in process (wash-ups etc.). More visibly by the use of demo/education events, or more fundamentally by examining our work to see what could be shared via Open Source? Those pearls big or small probably deserve some time out of the shell. I recoil to think how much human knowledge is hidden and lost in dark dusty corners because long forgotten fears of secrecy and competition.
I would encourage any socially conscious tech company to think about how they discard of IP. There is not always time, resource or strategic/commercial drivers to protect all IP to the death (nor to proactively share it I guess). However, others in totally unrelated industries and fields may be trying to reinvent that wheel that you have started. Freely given, discarded or unwanted IP could easily become intellectual social property and a force for great good. It also sometimes has some great commercial benefit too as this Canadian Business article points out.
As for Black Swan, we are busily creating all this exciting tech and it is very much our intention to share what we can with some Open Source resources in the very near future (watch this space). In the meantime, I can only recommend The John Dory Oyster Bar underneath the Ace Hotel in New York for great seafood, and the Intellectual Property Office and British Museum in London for some intellectual sustenance.