The Comingled Code
Discussions of the economic impact of open source software often generate more heat than light. Advocates passionately assert the benefits of open source while critics decry its effects. Missing from the debate is rigorous economic analysis and systematic economic evidence of the impact of open source on consumers, firms, and economic development in general. This book fills that gap. In The Comingled Code, Josh Lerner and Mark Schankerman, drawing on a new, large-scale database, show that open source and proprietary software interact in sometimes unexpected ways, and discuss the policy implications of these findings. The new data (from a range of countries in varying stages of development) documents the mixing of open source and proprietary software: firms sell proprietary software while contributing to open source, and users extensively mix and match the two. Lerner and Schankerman examine the ways in which software differs from other technologies in promoting economic development, what motivates individuals and firms to contribute to open source projects, how developers and users view the trade-offs between the two kinds of software, and how government policies can ensure that open source competes effectively with proprietary software and contributes to economic development.
About the Authors
Josh Lerner is Jacob H. Schiff Professor of Investment Banking at Harvard Business School, with a joint appointment in the Finance and Entrepreneurial Units. He is the author of The Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed and What to Do About It.
Mark Schankerman is Professor of Economics and Research Associate at the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Research Fellow at the Centre for Economic Policy Research in London.
“Having dissected open source in detail and told governments at length what not to do, the authors’ prescriptions remain rather vague. “There is no right answer,” they say in the final chapter, amusingly called “The Takeaways”. It would also have been helpful to examine the implications of the findings for technology sharing in other industries. Open source has moved way beyond software—into biology, all forms of digital content (Wikipedia, now ten years old, is the most prominent example) and even hardware. “The Comingled Code” is full of insights, but the literature about this important development in recent economic history is still far from complete.” — The Economist
“For anyone who thought the open source movement was a passing fancy, this is the book to read. Written by two experts in innovation and patent policy, it presents important evidence on the scope and complexity of how firms and public authorities have embraced open source software. The reader will learn which nations and which types of firms use open source most heavily, and may be surprised at the extent to which open source code is blended with code and products that are kept proprietary. The authors provide a rich foundation for yet another wave of thinking on the subject." — Suzanne Scotchmer, University of California, Berkeley, author of Innovation and Incentives
““How does software impact growth? Should the government favor open source over proprietary software, and how should companies choose between them? How will the comingling between open source and proprietary software evolve? If you are looking for answers to these questions and others related to the software industry, The Comingled Code, written by two giants of software economics and empirical industrial organization, will provide you with an original, rigorous, and yet eminently accessible analysis. Essential for all researchers, students, and practitioners interested in this crucial industry.” — Jean Tirole, Toulouse School of Economics
““The great challenge in all fields of technology is to design institutions and laws that both provide incentives for innovation and ensure that the fruits of that innovation are widely shared. Often, these goals seem incompatible. In the field of software, the advocates of ‘open source’ development claim not only to have resolved the tension but to have done so in a way that has myriad collateral economic and social benefits. Are they right? This book brings deep knowledge and careful analysis to bear on that crucial question. The answers it offers deserve close attention from programmers, business leaders, and policy makers everywhere.” — William Fisher, Wilmer Hale Professor of Intellectual Property Law and director, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University
““Unlike much of the writing on open source versus proprietary software, this book offers factual evidence, careful analysis, and evenhanded discussion, while avoiding unsupported opinions, hyperbole, and exaggeration. Everyone who is concerned with open source will want to read this book.” — Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google