We talked in our last post about two different kinds of innovators: Pioneers and Tweakers. Pioneers are the Thomas Edisons of the world – the people who fit our romantic image of the lonely genius – whereas Tweakers are the ones who transform Big Ideas into brilliant products by reworking and refining them.
Intellectual property law decidedly favors Pioneers over Tweakers. We think this is a questionable strategy. At the very least, we ought to think about what the right balance is between the two broad forms of innovation, and how we can design the right incentives to promote that balance.
An interesting window into this question is a longtime fixture of geek culture – the computer programming contest. MathWorks, a Natick, Massachusetts firm, has sponsored a series of online programming contests to promote their MATLAB programming language. These typically require contestants to write a program that solves a single difficult math problem in the least amount of time.