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On Platforms, Incomplete Contracts, and Open Source Software

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  • Andras Niedermayer

Abstract

We consider a firm A initially owning a software platform (e.g. operating system) and an application for this platform. The specific knowledge of another firm B is needed to make the platform successful by creating a further application. When B's application is completed, A has incentives to expropriate the rents. Netscape claimed e.g. that this was the case with its browser running on MS Windows. We will argue that open sourcing or standardizing the platform is a warranty for B against expropriation of rents. The different pieces of software are considered as assets in the sense of the property rights literature (see Hart and Moore (Journal of Political Economy, 1990)). Two cases of joint ownership are considered beyond the standard cases of integration and non-integration: platform standardization (both parties can veto changes) and open source (no veto rights). In line with the literature, the more important a party's specific investments the more rights it should have. In contrast to Hart and Moore, however, joint ownership can be optimal in our setting. Open source is optimal if investments in the applications are more important than in the platform. The results are driven by the fact that in our model firms invest in physical (and not in human) capital and that there is non-rivalry in consumption for software.

Suggested Citation

  • Andras Niedermayer, 2007. "On Platforms, Incomplete Contracts, and Open Source Software," Diskussionsschriften dp0707, Universitaet Bern, Departement Volkswirtschaft.
  • Handle: RePEc:ube:dpvwib:dp0707
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Hart, Oliver & Moore, John, 1990. "Property Rights and the Nature of the Firm," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(6), pages 1119-1158, December.
    2. Josh Lerner & Jean Tirole, 2005. "The Economics of Technology Sharing: Open Source and Beyond," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(2), pages 99-120, Spring.
    3. Farrell, Joseph & Katz, Michael L, 2000. "Innovation, Rent Extraction, and Integration in Systems Markets," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(4), pages 413-432, December.
    4. West, Joel, 2003. "How open is open enough?: Melding proprietary and open source platform strategies," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(7), pages 1259-1285, July.
    5. Grossman, Sanford J & Hart, Oliver D, 1986. "The Costs and Benefits of Ownership: A Theory of Vertical and Lateral Integration," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(4), pages 691-719, August.
    6. Stephen M. Maurer & Suzanne Scotchmer, 2006. "Open Source Software: The New Intellectual Property Paradigm," NBER Working Papers 12148, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Annabelle Gawer & Rebecca Henderson, 2007. "Platform Owner Entry and Innovation in Complementary Markets: Evidence from Intel," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 16(1), pages 1-34, March.
    8. Rosenkranz, Stephanie & Schmitz, Patrick W., 1999. "Know-how disclosure and incomplete contracts," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 63(2), pages 181-185, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Atal Vidya & Shankar Kameshwari, 2015. "Developers’ Incentives and Open-Source Software Licensing: GPL vs BSD," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 15(3), pages 1381-1416, July.
    2. Niedermayer Andras, 2015. "Does a Platform Monopolist Want Competition?," Review of Network Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 14(1), pages 1-44, March.
    3. Thomas Le Texier & Mourad Zeroukhi, 2015. "How Can Proprietary Software Firms Take Advantage Over Open Source Communities? Another Story of Pro fitable Piracy," Economics Working Paper Archive (University of Rennes 1 & University of Caen) 201503, Center for Research in Economics and Management (CREM), University of Rennes 1, University of Caen and CNRS.
    4. Llanes, Gastón & de Elejalde, Ramiro, 2013. "Industry equilibrium with open-source and proprietary firms," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 36-49.
    5. Kevin Boudreau, 2010. "Open Platform Strategies and Innovation: Granting Access vs. Devolving Control," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 56(10), pages 1849-1872, October.
    6. Niedermayer, Andreas, 2015. "Does a Platform Monopolist Want Competition?," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 523, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Platforms; open source; standardization; incomplete contracts; property rights; joint ownership;

    JEL classification:

    • C70 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - General
    • D23 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Organizational Behavior; Transaction Costs; Property Rights
    • L13 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Oligopoly and Other Imperfect Markets
    • L22 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Firm Organization and Market Structure
    • L86 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Information and Internet Services; Computer Software

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