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Dissertation Defense

Nitin Sawhney:
COOPERATIVE INNOVATION IN THE COMMONS: Rethinking Distributed Collaboration and Intellectual Property for Sustainable Design Innovation

Monday, November 25, 2002, 11:00 AM EST

Bartos Theatre [map]
Wiesner Building
20 Ames Street
Cambridge, MA

tv icon Archived Stream.

Alex (Sandy) Pentland
Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
Director, Media Lab Asia
Program in Media Arts and Sciences, MIT

Bish Sanyal
Ford International Professor of Urban Development and Planning
Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT

Mitchel Resnick
LEGO Papert Associate Professor of Learning Research
Program in Media Arts and Sciences, MIT

Mark S. Ackerman
Associate Professor, School of Information and
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Michigan

Addressing global design challenges in the environment and underserved communities requires a cooperative approach towards sustainable design innovation, one that embraces multidisciplinary expertise, participatory design and rapid dissemination of critical innovations in the field. How can a rural farmer in Botswana cooperatively develop appropriate solutions with students and domain experts at MIT for his community? How can a doctor in Sao Paulo access a network of medical device companies to help manufacture and disseminate her design innovations widely? While there is a great emphasis on large breakthrough R&D innovations, there is often little support for developing and disseminating small-scale, affordable, and locally sustainable designs.

The Open Source phenomenon has been influential in the software community, however distributed collaboration in knowledge-intensive engineering design requires widely accessible design tools as well as novel mechanisms for supporting social communities of practice, intellectual property rights and field deployment of product innovations. ThinkCycle has been developed as a Web-based collaboration platform that provides community tools and shared online spaces for designers, domain experts and stakeholders to discuss, exchange, construct and peer-review evolving design solutions in critical domains. Over 1,500 users worldwide access and contribute hundreds of design concepts, resources, projects and publications on the site. ThinkCycle is emerging as a collaborative platform, open design repository and global community for innovations in sustainable design:

Studies were conducted on the nature of design interaction, learning and intellectual property emerging from open collaborative design, in studio courses run at MIT over the past 2 years. Peer-review by experts not co-located with design teams and lightweight asynchronous interfaces with existing modes of communication, better sustain the "social process of design" in online settings. Social inquiry into notions of intellectual property reveal a typology of patterns with different levels of public disclosure as well as both formal and informal property rights adopted under different conditions, including patents and open source. However, there is much ambiguity and conflict regarding how to deal with cooperative innovations as they evolve from being subpatentable learning experiments to functional and commercially viable solutions with potentially large social impact. The thesis provides a framework within which we can begin to answer these questions.

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