From Medieval Guilds to Open Source Software

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* Article: Robert P. Merges, From Medieval Guilds to Open Source Software: Informal Norms, Appropriability Institutions, and Innovation., p. 8,



"This essay draws on recent scholarship concerning the nature and function of medieval guilds. I argue that certain features of these guilds appear in modern institutions that further collective invention ("appropriability institutions"): patent pools, industry-wide standard-setting organizations, informal knowledge exchange among academic scientists, and (in a more limited way) open source software development.

In particular, guilds and modern institutions share three features:

(1) an "appropriability structure" that makes it profitable for individual entities to develop new technologies and sometimes share them;

(2) reliance on group norms, as opposed to formal legal enactments, as an enforcement mechanism; and

(3) a balance of competition and cooperation which determines what information is to be shared with the group, and what (if any) individual-proprietary information is not.

The current trend toward greater dispersal and atomization of economic activity may increase the importance of such inter-firm appropriability institutions."