Research Summary

Distributed Innovation in Open Systems——The Role of Modularity

by Carliss Y. Baldwin


Distributed innovation in open systems is an important trend in the modern global economy. As education levels rise and communication costs fall, more people have the means and motivation to innovate. Supply chains now stretch around the world as firms outsource production to innovative suppliers, and many firms have structured their products as open systems in which users and complementors are invited to innovate.

In general, distributed innovation in open systems is made possible by the modularity of the underlying product or process. Modularity reduces the risk that small changes in the environment will cause the whole system to fail, and makes it easier for the entire system to evolve towards higher levels of performance. This is true for complex products and processes and for networks of firms loosely linked in so-called business ecosystems.

My research is aimed at understanding how modularity is achieved in technical systems as well as the impact of modularity on firm value and industry structure. Currently I am working on projects focused on (1) impact of modularity on intellectual property, (2) the hidden structure of complex systems (especially software), and (3) how design rights may be shared across modular boundaries.