16TH MARCH, 2023

Open Innovation vs. Closed Innovation: Understanding the Key Differences


Innovation is the driving force behind sustainable growth, prosperity, and competitive advantage. Essentially, it is the process of developing and implementing new ideas, technologies, or strategies to create value and enhance an organisation's ability to meet market demands.

However, not all innovation processes follow the same approach, and recognising the key differences between these approaches can significantly impact a business's success. Open innovation and closed innovation are two contrasting strategies that organisations utilise for this purpose.

Open innovation involves collaborating with external partners, such as academia, customers, and other firms, to pool knowledge and resources, thereby creating a vast spectrum of possibilities for fostering new ideas.

In contrast, closed innovation relies on internal Research and Development (R&D) efforts to generate proprietary solutions, safeguarded by strict intellectual property rights to maintain competitiveness.

The purpose of this blog post is to delve deeper into the intricacies of these two approaches, analysing their advantages and disadvantages, and offering expert insights to help businesses make informed decisions in choosing the most appropriate approach for driving innovation and growth.

By doing so, we aim to empower organisations with the knowledge required to navigate the ever-evolving world of technological advancements and marketplace disruptions, ultimately leading them towards sustainable success.

Open Innovation

Open innovation is a modern approach to innovation management, which promotes the flow of knowledge, ideas, and intellectual property both within and outside an organisation's boundaries. This paradigm shift encourages collaboration and exchange between external partners – such as universities, research institutes, suppliers, customers, and even competitors – and internal teams to fuel the innovation engine. Open innovation leverages external sources of creativity and disruptive thinking to develop new products, services, and business models that drive growth.

There are several key advantages to adopting open innovation. Firstly, it provides access to a vast pool of external ideas and expertise, which can significantly enhance an organisation's problem-solving capabilities. By collaborating with external partners, companies can tap into diverse perspectives, leading to the development of innovative solutions that may have been impossible to conceive from a solely internal viewpoint. This can result in breakthrough innovations that differentiate businesses from their competitors and provide a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Another advantage of open innovation is the potential for reduced R&D costs. By utilising external resources and ideas, R&D projects can be carried out more efficiently and at a lower cost. Furthermore, the risk associated with innovation is spread across multiple parties, minimising the financial burden on a single organisation.

Numerous companies have successfully implemented open innovation strategies, reaping the benefits of collaboration and shared knowledge. For example, Procter & Gamble's 'Connect+Develop' programme actively seeks out external partners to co-create new products and business models. Through this open approach, P&G has introduced over 35% of their new products over the last decade. Similarly, IBM's 'InnovationJam' initiative brought together over 150,000 people from 104 countries to tackle major technological challenges, resulting in the development of ten new business opportunities worth nearly $100 million.

In conclusion, open innovation offers businesses the opportunity to unlock untapped potential through collaboration and exchange, fostering a diversified approach to problem-solving that enables breakthroughs and propels growth.

Closed Innovation:

Closed innovation, often considered the traditional approach to research and development, refers to a company's internal management and execution of its innovation processes. This involves utilising in-house resources, such as company employees, internal research and development departments, and proprietary technology, to create and commercialise new products or ideas. In contrast to open innovation, closed innovation does not involve collaborations with external entities, including customers, competitors, and research institutions.

One of the primary advantages of closed innovation is the protection of intellectual property (IP). By developing and fostering ideas within the organisation, companies can maintain tighter control over their inventions and trade secrets, reducing the risk of potential IP theft by competitors. Closed innovation also allows businesses to exert greater control over the overall innovation process; they can define project parameters, allocate resources strategically and tailor new concepts to align perfectly with company strategy and objectives.

Additionally, closed innovation can foster a sense of internal competitiveness among employees, driving them to develop unique and creative solutions to problems, without the influence or input of external parties. This can lead to an environment that nurtures the growth and development of proprietary breakthroughs.

Several companies have successfully implemented closed innovation strategies. For instance, Apple Inc. is renowned for its reliance on internal resources and expertise, which has helped them maintain a competitive edge in the consumer electronics market. Apple's development of their own processors, such as the A-series chips used in iPhones and iPads, demonstrates their commitment to a closed innovation model. Another example is Procter & Gamble (P&G), who, prior to embracing open innovation, relied heavily on their extensive in-house research and development capabilities. P&G's historic success in creating innovative products, such as Tide laundry detergent and Crest toothpaste, can be attributed to their closed innovation strategy.

In summary, closed innovation allows companies to maintain tighter control over their intellectual property, manage the innovation process effectively, and align projects with their strategy. Notable examples, such as Apple and Procter & Gamble, have demonstrated the potential benefits that this approach can provide in driving business growth and success.

Key Differences between Open and Closed Innovation

Open innovation is an approach that emphasises collaboration and the sharing of ideas and resources beyond a company's boundaries. It involves seeking external expertise, partnering with suppliers, customers, or even competitors to solve problems or develop new products and services. Proponents of open innovation argue that it leads to faster innovations, reduced costs and allows access to a larger pool of talent, ideas and intellectual properties. However, the downside of this approach includes the risk of losing control over proprietary information and potential legal issues related to intellectual property.

On the other hand, closed innovation is based on the belief that companies should rely solely on their internal resources and capabilities to generate all innovations. This approach emphasises secrecy, intellectual property protection and self-reliance. Advocates for closed innovation argue that it enables companies to maintain control over their innovations and protect their competitive advantage. However, disadvantages include the potential for limited creativity due to the lack of external input, inefficiencies in R&D processes, and the risk of technological obsolescence.

To determine which innovation approach is best for your business, consider the following factors: your company culture and values, industry dynamics, competition level, available resources, and desired innovation outcomes. For organisations that value collaboration, are operating in highly competitive industries, or lack the necessary internal resources, open innovation may be the best choice. Alternatively, for businesses that prioritise secrecy and protection of intellectual property, closed innovation may be more suitable.

In conclusion, open and closed innovation offer distinct advantages and challenges, and selecting the most appropriate approach depends on the unique context of your business. By carefully considering the factors outlined above, organisations can make informed decisions to drive innovation and growth.


This blog post delved into the crucial distinctions between open and closed innovation, highlighting how these two strategies impact the way companies maintain their competitive edge. As we have seen, open innovation encourages businesses to engage in collaborative efforts, leverage external resources, and foster a more adaptable, fluid system. In contrast, closed innovation focuses inward, prioritising proprietary knowledge, full ownership and control, as well as independent problem-solving.

To make an informed decision regarding the most suitable option for a business, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each approach is essential. Open innovation boasts benefits such as reduced costs, diversified perspectives, and accelerated innovation cycles. These can prove invaluable, especially when operating in dynamic environments. On the other hand, closed innovation maintains strict control over intellectual property and streamlines research and development, potentially leading to breakthroughs that competitors may struggle to replicate.

The importance of understanding the differences between open and closed innovation cannot be overstated. It is crucial for businesses to determine which approach best aligns with their overall strategy, organisational culture, and specific industry norms. Ultimately, this decision may directly impact a company's capacity for growth, long-term success, and market leadership. By understanding the nuances of each approach and how they align with a firm's objectives, business leaders can adopt the most appropriate innovation strategy to optimise their organisation's competitive position in the market.

In summary, developing a clear grasp of open and closed innovation strategies is critical to making informed choices that reinforce an organisation's capacity for success in today's rapidly evolving business landscape. As companies strive to secure a leading edge and foster sustainable growth, assessing the merits and drawbacks of each framework is indispensable in shaping an approach tailored to the unique needs of an organisation.

Contact us to discuss any aspect of tax relief for your innovative company

There are a number of state-backed financial schemes designed to assist companies with the cost of innovation, notably R&D Tax Credits and R&D Grants. However, putting together an application for either relief can be a tough process and there are many pitfalls, which is why you should use a highly skilled R&D tax relief firm such as ourselves.

Myriad Associates (developers of the Tax Cloud portal) is on hand to help with every aspect of putting your R&D tax relief claim together. From our initial meeting to crafting the perfect narrative report, right through to completion our team of R&D tax relief specialists and accountants are proud of their 100% success rate in getting Irish businesses the reliefs they deserve.

Why not try out our Tax Cloud portal for businesses and see what you could be owed, or call our Dublin-based team on +353 1 566 2001. Alternatively, please use our contact page and we'll be pleased to get back to you.

Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA
Author Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA CEO, Tax Cloud
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