Altruism or Shrewd Business? Implications of Technology Openness on Platform Innovations and Competition
Posted: 16 May 2016 Last revised: 19 Apr 2019
Date Written: July 28, 2016
In today’s highly competitive business environment, a growing number of platforms are opening their technologies. This leads us to wonder whether sharing one’s proprietary technology is altruism or a shrewd business move. In this paper, we study the incentive of why firms share their proprietary technology with their competitors. In contrast to previous literature focusing on network effects, our study reveals a novel explanation for why firms are willing to open their technologies. We focus on two effects driven by the decision of technology openness. On the one hand, a commitment to share technology leads to information disclosure (information effect). The competitor will learn the other firm’s technology level whether it decides to adopt or not. On the other hand, opening one’s technology might contribute to technology access (access effect). That is, the competitor firm has the opportunity to incur learning costs to absorb the other firm’s technology. The decision regarding technology openness critically depends on the trade-off between the information effect and the access effect. More importantly, the interaction of these two effects is moderated by the magnitude of learning cost. We find that when the learning cost of acquiring new technology is negligible, given openness, the access effect dominates the information effect, which leads to the equilibrium strategy where both firms close their technology. However, when the learning cost is substantial, the access effect recedes and technology openness can benefit the firm through the information effect. This is because openness can reduce innovation competition that is otherwise caused by technology uncertainty stemming from the closed strategy. We also discuss the impact of technology openness on the degree of innovation and find that opening technology does not necessarily lead to higher innovation. We further explore several extended models including unobservability of learning, third-party innovation and asymmetric firms, and show that our intuition of the base model is robust and enriched.
Keywords: Economics of IS, IT Innovation Investment, Technology Openness, Platform Economy
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