The Broad Scope of Free Innovation


To date, empirical studies of free user innovation have focused almost entirely on product innovations. However, free innovation logically should extend far beyond products. After all, the test for innovation opportunity viability presented in chapter 3 has nothing to say about the nature of specific opportunities. It just specifies that innovators' expected benefits should exceed their expected costs.

In this chapter, I show that the scope of free innovation in the household sector is indeed broad—and perhaps as broad as that of producer innovation with respect to products, services, and processes of interest to consumers. I do this by reviewing the findings of field-specific studies and by discussing illustrative examples of the sources of innovation across five innovation categories used in official OECD government statistics.

Types of Innovations

To test for the ubiquity of free innovation, I use the definition of innovation used by government statistical agencies in OECD nations. “An innovation is the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organizational method in business practices, workplace organization or external relations" (Oslo Manual 2005, paragraph 146, italics in original). Adjusting that producer-centric language to include the possibility of free innovators, we see that it refers to five innovation subject matters: An innovation is a new or significantly improved (1) product, (2) service, (3) process, (4) marketing method, or (5) organizational method related to free or producer innovation practices or external relations.

In the sections that follow, I briefly document the presence of free innovation in the household sector with respect to Oslo Manual categories 2-5. The importance of free innovation activity in category (1), products, has already been documented in earlier sections of this book.

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