An open or shut case for nanotechnology secrets
Should nanotechnology R&D be more open to allow it to thrive in the commercial world, or should companies working in this field be more secretive? Paradoxically, the answer seems to be that keeping secrets stifles innovation and reduces patent success. According to Associate Professor of Management at Pennsylvania State University Abington, Steven McMillan, companies should adopt an open policy towards publication of their R&D results as is common in research institutes, university research departments and academia in general.
McMillan points out that his team’s earlier research has demonstrated that for the pharmaceutical industry, openness is rather important. In that arena, companies are keen to put results into the public domain, to collaborate with academia, and to publish in the open literature. Of course, the patent work is usually undertaken in parallel and “open” publication is done in such a way that patent protection is not compromised by publication in a scientific journal.
Nevertheless, openness is the convention and the research suggests that those companies who are more secretive tend not to fare as well as their open counterparts when it comes to profitable outcomes from their innovations. McMillan and colleagues previously developed a game-theory model akin to the well-known Prisoner’s Dilemma that demonstrated how openness is superior to secrecy.
McMillan has turned to the emerging, burgeoning and positively thriving field of nanotechnology (also known as nanotech and nano) with a view to uncovering parallel phenomenon among the open and secret companies in that area. He has analysed the NSF funded Nanobank with its database of some 600,000 scientific papers, 250,000 patents, and over 50,000 grants to see if any patterns emerge and demonstrated once again that those nano companies that publish openly seem to be the ones that succeed in terms of their R&D performance. Conversely, eschewing open publication is generally to the detriment of the nano company that takes that stance.
G. Steven McMillan (2010). Openness vs. secrecy in nanotechnology International Journal of Technology Intelligence and Planning, 6 (3), 205-209