Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2013

Cumulative Innovation & Open Disclosure of Intermediate Results: Evidence from a Policy Experiment in Bioinformatics

by Kevin Boudreau and Karim Lakhani


Recent calls for greater openness in our private and public innovation systems have particularly urged for more open disclosure and granting of access to intermediate works—early results, algorithms, materials, data and techniques—with the goals of enhancing overall research and development productivity and enhancing cumulative innovation. To make progress towards understanding implications of such policy changes we devised a large-scale field experiment in which 733 subjects were divided into matched independent subgroups to address a bioinformatics problem under either a regime of open disclosure of intermediate results or, alternatively, one of closed secrecy around intermediate solutions. We observe the cumulative innovation process in each regime with fine-grained measures and are able to derive inferences with a series of cross-sectional comparisons. Open disclosures led to lower participation and lower effort but nonetheless led to higher average problem-solving performance by concentrating these lesser efforts on the most performant technical approaches. Closed secrecy produced higher participation and higher effort, while producing less correlated choices of technical approaches that participants pursued, resulting in greater individual and collective experimentation and greater dispersion of performance. We discuss the implications of such changes to the ongoing theory, evidence, and policy considerations with regards to cumulative innovation.

Keywords: Knowledge Sharing; Patents; Innovation and Invention;


Boudreau, Kevin, and Karim Lakhani. "Cumulative Innovation & Open Disclosure of Intermediate Results: Evidence from a Policy Experiment in Bioinformatics." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-002, July 2013.