Abstract: Stages of Openness in the Development of Photographic Technology in Nineteenth-Century America

Joris Mercelis


Open innovation is widely seen as a business and policy strategy whose potential ought to be more fully explored, but opinions differ as to what sorts of openness are preferable. For instance, should public accessibility be the ultimate criterion, or is it sufficient to stimulate knowledge-sharing activities between a limited number of actors? Through a case study on photographic technology, this paper will suggest that besides contextual factors, an industry's stage of development largely determines which type of openness is the most pertinent. I will first demonstrate that in the early 1860s, photographers regarded open knowledge sharing as a way to erase certain fraudulent sales practices and to counter information asymmetries between sellers and buyers of photographic technology. Then, from the mid-1860s until the late 1870s, openness was primarily understood in opposition to access restrictions imposed by the assignees of a number of highly controversial patents. Finally, from the mid-1880s onward, the growing importance of industrial research and development and the creation of a regime of corporate intellectual property made corporate secrecy the major cause for concern.