Open coopetition

In R&D management and systems development, open coopetition or open-coopetition is a neologism to describe cooperation among competitors in the open-source arena. The term was first coined by the scholars Jose Teixeira and Tingting Lin to describe how rival firms that, while competing with similar products in the same markets (e.g., Apple, Samsung, Google, Nokia), collaborate which each other in the development of open-source projects (e.g., Webkit).[1]

Open-coopetition is a compound-word term bridging coopetition and open-source. Coopetition refers to a paradoxical relationship between two or more actors simultaneously involved in cooperative and competitive interactions;[2][3] and open-source both as a development method that emphasizes transparency and collaboration, and as a “private-collective” innovation model with features both from the private investment and collective action[4] — firms contribute towards the creation of public goods while giving up associated intellectual property rights such patents, copyright, licenses, or trade secrets.


Such intertwined behavior of cooperation and competition in an open-source way, emphasizes transparency on the development of technological artifacts that become available to the public under an open-source license—allowing anyone to freely obtain, study, modify and redistribute them. Within open-coopetition, development transparency and sense of community are maximized; while the managerial control and IP enforcement are minimized. Open-coopetitive relationships are paradoxical as the core managerial concepts of property, contract and price play an outlier role.

The openness characteristic of open-source projects also distinguishes open-coopetition from other forms of cooperative arrangements by its inclusiveness: Everybody can contribute. Users or other contributors do not need to hold a supplier contract or sign a legal intellectual property arrangement to contribute. Moreover, neither to be a member of a particular firm or affiliated with a particular joint venture or consortia to be able to contribute. In the words of Massimo Banzi, “You don’t need anyone’s permission to make something great”.[5]



In a large-scale study involving multiple European-based software intensive firms, the scholars Pär Ågerfalk and Brian Fitzgerald revealed a shift from “open-source as a community of individual developers to open-source as a community of commercial organizations, primarily small and medium-sized enterprises, operating as a symbiotic ecosystem in a spirit of coopetition”.[6] Even if they were exploring open-sourcing as “a novel and unconventional approach to global sourcing and coopetition”, they captured the following quote that highlights that competition in the open-source arena is not as in business as usual.

“In a traditional market you don’t call up your competitor and be like, oh, well tell me what your stuff does. But in open source you do.” [Open Source Program Director, at IONA] [6]


Also in the academic world, and after following a software company based in Norway for over five years, and while theorizing on the concept of software ecosystem, the academic Geir K. Hanssen noted that the characteristic networks of a software ecosystem, open-source or proprietary ones, can embed competing organizations.

“Software ecosystems have a networked character. CSoft and its external environment constitute a network of customers and third party organizations. Even competitors may be considered a part of this network, although this aspect has not been studied in particular here.”[7]

In an opinion article entitled Open Source Coopetition Fueled by Linux Foundation Growth, the journalist and market analyst Jay Lyman highlights that “working with direct rivals may have been unthinkable 10 years ago, but Linux, open-source and organizations such as the Linux Foundation have highlighted how solving common problems and easing customer pain and friction in using and choosing different technologies can truly drive innovation and traction in the market.”[8] The term “open source coopetition” was employed to highlight the role of the Linux Foundation as a mediator of collaboration among rival firms.


At the OpenStack summit in Hong Kong, the co-founder of Mirantis Boris Renski talked about his job on figuring out how to co-opete in the crowded OpenStack open-source community. In a 43-minute broadcast video, Boris Renski shed some light on OpenStack coopetition politics and shared a subjective view on strategies of individual players within the OpenStack community (e.g., Rackspace, Mirantis, IBM, HP and Red Hat among others).[9] The Mirantis co-founder provided a rich description of an open-source community working in co-opetition.

Along with this lines, the pioneering scholarly work of Germonprez et al. (2013)[10] reported on how key business actors within the financial services industry that traditionally viewed open-source software with skepticism, tied up an open-source ‘community of competitors’. By taking the case of OpenMAMA, a Middleware Agnostic Messaging API used by some of the world’s largest financial players, they show that corporate market rivals (e.g., J. P. Morgan, Bank of America, IBM and BMC) can coexist in open-source communities, and intentionally coordinate activities or mutual benefits in precise, market focused, and non-differentiating engagements. Their work pointed out that high-competitive capital-oriented industries do not epitomize the traditional and grassroots idea that open-source software was originally born from. Furthermore, they argued that open-source communities can be deliberately designed to include competing vendors and customers under neutral institutional structures (e.g., foundations and steering committees).


In an academic paper entitled “Collaboration in the open-source arena: The WebKit case”, the scholars Jose Teixeira and Tingting Lin executed an ethnographic informed social network analysis on the development of the WebKit open-source web browsing technologies. Among a set of the reported findings, they pointed out that even if Apple and Samsung were involved in expensive patent wars in the courts at the time, they still collaborated in the open-source arena. As some of the research results did not confirm prior research in coopetition,[2][3] the authors proposed and coined the “open-coopetition” term while emphasizing the openness of collaborating with competitors in the open-source arena.[1]


By turning to OpenStack, the scholars Teixeira et al. (2015)[11] went further and modeled and analyzed both collaborative and competitive networks from the OpenStack open-source project (a large and complex cloud computing infrastructure for big data). Somewhat surprising results point out that competition for the same revenue model (i.e., operating conflicting business models) does not necessarily affect collaboration within the OpenStack ecosystem—in other words, competition among firms did not significantly influence collaboration among software developers affiliated with them. Furthermore, the expected social tendency of developers to work with developers from same firm (i.e., homophily) did not hold within the OpenStack ecosystem. The case of OpenStack revealed to be much about genuine collaboration in software development besides ubiquitous competition among the firms that produce and use the software.


A related study by Linåker et al. (2016)[12] analyzed the Apache Hadoop ecosystem in a quantitative longitudinal case study to investigate changing stakeholder influence and collaboration patterns. They found that the collaborative network had a quite stable number of network components (i.e., number of sub-communities within the community) with many unconnected stakeholders. Furthermore, such components were dominated by a core set of stakeholders that engaged in most of the collaborative relationships. As in OpenStack, there was much cooperation among competing and non-competing actors within the Apache Hadoop ecosystem—or in other words, firms with competing business models collaborate as openly as non-rivaling firms. Finally, they also argued that the openness of software ecosystems decreases the distance to competitors within the same ecosystem, it becomes possible and important to track what the competitors do within. Knowing about their existing collaborations, contributions, and interests in specific features offer valuable information about the competitors’ strategies and tactics.

In a study addressing coopetition in the cloud computing industry, Teixeira et al.[13] analyzed not only coopetition among individuals and organizations but also among cohesive inter-organizational networks. Relationships among individuals were modeled and visualized in 2D longitudinal visualizations and relationships among inter-organizational networks (e.g., alliances, consortium or ecosystem) were modeled and visualized in 3D longitudinal visualizations. The author added evidence to prior research[3] suggesting that competition is a multi-level phenomenon that is influenced by individual-level, organizational-level, and network-level factors.


By noting that many firms engaging into open-coopetition actively manage multiple portfolios of alliances in the software industry (i.e., many strategically contribute to multiple open-source software ecosystems) and by analyzing the co-evolution of OpenStack and the CloudStack cloud computing platforms, the same authors propose that development transparency and the weak intellectual property rights, two well-known characteristics of open-source ecosystems, allow an easier transfer of information and resources from one alliance to another. Even if openness enables a focal firm to transfer information and resources more easily between multiple alliances, such ‘ease of transfer’ should not be seen as a source of competitive advantage as competitors can do the same.


In a study explicitly addressing coopetition in open-source software ecosystems, Nguyen Duc et al. (2017)[14] identified a number of situations in which different actors within the software ecosystem deal with collaborative-competitive issues:

  • Central actors that act as a bridge between the community and the companies contributing to it (e.g., a lead developer or a maintainer) need to act as gatekeepers (aka boundary spanners) for bugs reported against specific products sold by the participating firms. As the software is integrated downstream into specific products often sold by competing firms, it matters to sort out what bugs are the responsibility of a specific firm or the community as a whole. In parallel, such ‘bridging’ actors also act as gatekeepers in flows of code and information (e.g., what code should, or should not, be included in the official community-releases and what information should circulate among the ecosystem participants).
  • Contributors affiliated with firms need to balance the interests of their employers with the interests of the community as a whole. Therefore, their work encompasses the filtering of what is to be kept private (hidden and/or property of the firm) or what is to be open (transparent and publicly available under the open-source community terms). Such filtering is impacted by many factors that can range from technical, legal, bureaucratic, as well as organizational strategy issues. .

Competitive behavior within open-source software ecosystems frictions with the more purist view of free and open-source software. The same authors reported on some working practices that conflict with the more traditional values of free and open-source software.

  • Developers occasionally establish private communication channels. Some open-source purists would prefer that all communication remains transparent and publicly available to the overall community.
  • Developers limit sensitive information to certain partners. While purists would prefer all relevant information to remain available to all ecosystem participants, legal or security issues are often discussed in private and secure communication channels.

The same study also unfolded a number of benefits that organization can rip by actively contributing to open-source software ecosystems that encompass both cooperative and competitive relationships:

  • Keeping the differences between their packaged software and the upstream software to a minimum. This allows firms to more easily benefit from the newest developments in the community. By implementing an upstream first policy, organizations can more easily catch updates, fixes, and changes from upstream.
  • Sharing maintenance responsibilities. Organizations working only downstream (i.e., just taking the software without contributing back) become solely responsible for maintaining their solution without the benefit of the overall community.
  • Reducing maintenance costs by revealing their own developments. If organizations extensively modify the software and opt to close some parts (keep it private or obfuscated) they will need to maintain such closed parts by themselves in the future without the benefit of the overall community.
  • Faster integration of new contributions. Active contributors will get their work integrated upstream more easily due to an improved social position within the community.
  • Receiving help. Active contributors with an improved social position within the community are more likely to benefit from the help from others members in the community. Given the complex nature of software development, help from other members in the ecosystem can be very valuable.
  • A sense of friendly competitiveness. Besides being competitors, the ecosystem participants develop a sense of community. Developers employed by competing firms can perceive others as partners and/or friends rather than competitors. In their work, developers often think of others as developers, partners or colleagues (individual persons) over the firms that they are representing.
  • Mutual co-creation of value. Even if many of competing firms are competitors they are often also customers/suppliers of each other. Furthermore, they might be competing in different geographical areas or different business domains creating a heterogeneous and heterophilous environment for reciprocal learning and value co-creation. Given the complex nature of software development, value creation should benefit from the involvement of multiple and heterogeneous actors holding complementary skills and resources.


Cases of open-coopetition are recurrent in the software industry in general. Furthermore, some cases exist also in the electronics, semiconductors, automotive, financial, telecommunications, retail, education, healthcare, defense, aerospace, and additive manufacturing industries. Cases of open-coopetition are often associated with high-tech corporations and startups based in the USA (predominantly on the West Coast). Cases can be also recognized in Cuba, Brazil, Europe (predominantly on Western Europe), India, South-Korea, China, Vietnam, Australia, and Japan.

Many of the software projects encompassing open-coopetition are legally governed by foundations such as the Linux Foundation, the Free Software Foundation, the Apache Software Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, and the X.Org Foundation among many others. Most of the Linux Foundation collaborative projects are coopetitive in nature — the Linux Foundation claims to be “a neutral home for collaborative development”.[15] Furthermore, many coopetitive open-source projects dealing with both software and hardware (e.g., computer graphics, data storage) are bounded by standard organizations such as the Khronos Group, W3C and the Open Compute Project.


Software-intensive domains

Project Project domain Competing actors collaborating in the project network
WebKit Web browsing technologies Apple, Nokia, Google, Samsung, Adobe, Intel and BlackBerry among others.
Blink Web browsing technologies Google, Opera, Adobe, Intel and Samsung among others.
Django Web development framework JetBrains, Instagram, Zapier, among others.
Ruby on Rails Web development framework Basecamp, GitHub, and YNAB among others.
Bootstrap Front-end web development framework Twitter, GitHub, Adobe, Google, Orange among others.
Selenium Software-testing framework for web applications BrowserStack, Sauce Labs, New Relic, SmartBear, Ranorex, among others.
ScaLAPACK Heterogeneous High-performance computing technologies Oak Ridge National Laboratory, National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, University of Tennessee, University of California, Berkeley, NAG Ltd., Intel, IBM, Cray, Hitachi, NEC and Silicon Graphics International among others.
Open MPI Heterogeneous High-performance computing technologies University of Tennessee, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Indiana University, University of Stuttgart, Inria, Amazon, ARM, Linaro, AMD, Broadcom, Cisco, Facebook, Intel, and Nvidia among others.
OpenStack Cloud computing infrastructure Rackspace, Red Hat, Canonical, IBM, HP, Intel, AMD, Vmware and Citrix among others.
CloudStack Cloud computing infrastructure Citrix, SunGard AS among others.
OpenNebula Cloud computing infrastructure OpenNebula Systems, Akamai, Université catholique de Louvain, Ghent University, Trinity College Dublin, Unity3D, CESGA, Telefónica, StorPool Storage, Harvard University, Polytechnic José Antonio Echeverría and the Spanish Supercomputing Network among others.
Cloud Foundry Platform as a Service (PaaS) Cisco, Canonical, IBM, EMC, VMware and SAP among others.
Xen Virtualization and hypervisor technologies University of Cambridge, Citrix, IBM, Intel, HP, Novell, Red Hat and Oracle among others.
Kubernetes Virtualization and containerization technologies Google, Rancher Labs, CoreOS, Univa, IBM, Red Hat and Docker, Inc. among others.
Docker Virtualization and containerization technologies Docker, Inc., Cisco, Google, Huawei, IBM, Microsoft, Stratoscale and Red Hat among others.
Hadoop Distributed storage and distributed processing technologies for Big Data Cloudera, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Jive, Microsoft, Intel and Hortonworks among others.
Apache Spark Distributed processing technologies for Big Data Databricks, Microsoft, University of Michigan, UC Berkeley, Princeton University, Yahoo, Hortonworks, Cloudera, NTT Data, Alibaba, IBM and Intel among others.
GCC Compiler Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Dell, EMC Corporation, IBM, RedHat, Intel, AMD, ARM, BNP Paribas, INRIA, Facebook, Apple and Google among others.
LLVM Compiler University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Apple, Google, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Facebook, Qualcomm, ARM and Intel among others.
Linux The Linux operating system Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Intel, NEC, Oracle, Qualcomm, Samsung, Hitachi, Red Hat and many others.
Yocto project Development tools for embedded Linux (focus on architecture independence) Broadcom, AMD, LG, Renesas, Huawei, Texas Instruments, MontaVista, Wind River, Intel, Freescale and Dell among others.
Linaro Development tools for embedded Linux (focus on the ARM and HSA architectures) ARM, Freescale Semiconductor, IBM, Samsung, ST-Ericsson, and Texas Instruments among others.
Eclipse Integrated development environment for JAVA and other programming languages Actuate, CA, IBM, Google, Oracle, SAP and Red Hat among others.
AOMedia Media compression technologies Amazon, Apple, ARM, Cisco, Facebook, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix and Nvidia among others.
Mesa 3D 3D graphics library Intel, AMD and VMware among others.
Blender 3D computer graphics software Blender Foundation, Google, NASA, Valve, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Aleph Objects, Nvidia, Intel and AMD among others.
EdX Massive open online courses Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Stanford University, Arizona State University and EdX among others.
Khan Academy Massive open online courses Carlos Slim Foundation, Google, AT&T, Disney and Pixar Animation Studios among others.
POLHN Massive open online courses WHO, Medscape, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Penn Foster Career School, Fiji National University among others.
OpenEMR Electronic health records and medical practice management software OEMR, among others.
VistA Electronic health records and medical practice management software InterSystems, Google and PWC among others.
Samba Application layer for network services SUSE, Red Hat, Google and Microsoft among others.
WSO2 Middleware integration technologies IBM, Axiata and Yenlo among others.
RabbitMQ Message broker for message orientated middlewares VMware and Pivotal Software among others.
IoTivity Interoperable device-to-device technologies for the Internet of Things Microsoft, Intel, Qualcomm, Samsung, Cisco, General Electric and Electrolux among others.
AllJoyn Interoperable device-to-device technologies for the Internet of Things Haier, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Sharp, Silicon Image, TP-LINK, Cisco, D-Link, HTC and Wilocity among others.
Monax Blockchain technologies Monax, Ethereum among others.
OpenDaylight Platform for Software-defined networking Arista Networks, Big Switch Networks, Brocade, Cisco, Citrix, Ericsson, HP, IBM, Juniper Networks, Microsoft, NEC, Red Hat and VMware among others.
OPNFV Platform for network functions virtualization AT&T, Brocade Communications Systems, China Mobile, Cisco, Dell, Ericsson, HP, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Juniper Networks, NEC, Nokia Networks, NTT DoCoMo, Red Hat, Telecom Italia and Vodafone among others.
Kamailio VoIP telephony systems Fraunhofer, Tekelec
Wireshark Network protocol analyzer Apple, Cisco, NetApp, Eindhoven University of Technology and Rice University among others.
TensorFlow Machine learning system based on deep learning neural networks Google, Dropbox, Airbus, ARM, Qualcomm, Airbnb, Uber, Deepmind and among others.
R Consortium Programming language and software environment for statistical computing Microsoft, RStudio, Tibco, Alteryx, Google and HP among others.

Beyond software[edit]

Project Project domain Competing actors collaborating in the project network
OpenRISC Microprocessor design Flextronics, FOSSi, Jennic, Cadence, Accellera, TechEdSat, NASA, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and Technical University of Munich (TUM) among others.
OpenSPARC Microprocessor design Oracle, Sun Microsystems, SPARC International, Fujitsu, Ericsson, Cobham plc, and European Space Agency among others.
RISC-V Microprocessor design Bluespec, Inc., Google, Microsemi, NVIDIA, NXP, University of California, Berkeley and Western Digital among others.
Open Compute Hardware and software designs for data-centers Facebook, Intel, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Rackspace, Ericsson, Cisco, Juniper Networks, HP, Lenovo, Fidelity, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America among others.
OpenCL Programming framework for heterogeneous computing environments Altera, AMD, Apple, ARM, Creative, IBM, Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Samsung among others.
Open Handset Alliance Mobile devices platform Google, Asus, LG, Samsung, HTC, Acer, Huawei, ZTE, Lenovo, NEC and Sharp among others.
Tizen Mobile devices platform Fujitsu, Huawei, NEC, Casio, Panasonic and Samsung among others.
GENIVI Alliance In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) platform Volvo, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Renault, PSA, Daimler AG (Mercedes-Benz), Mitsubishi Electric and Bosch among others.
Open Automotive Alliance In-Vehicle Infotainment (IVI) platform Audi, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Google, Nvidia, Freescale Semiconductor, Harman and JVC Kenwood among others.
Automotive Grade Linux Software stack for the connected car Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, Toyota, DENSO Corporation, Fujitsu, Harman, NVIDIA, Renesas, Samsung and Texas Instruments among others.
SmartDeviceLink Smartphone to vehicle head unit interface Ford, Toyota, Suzuki, Mazda, Subaru, Kawasaki, Magellan and Pioneer among others.
RepRap 3D printing technologies University of Bath, MakerBot, Ultimaker and Prusa Research among others.
Arduino Microcontroller board Arduino, SparkFun Electronics, Adafruit Industries, Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, University of Los Andes, New York University and MIT Media Lab among others.
KiCad Software suite for Electronic Design Automation (EDA). Université Grenoble Alpes, CERN, Raspberry Pi Foundation and Arduino.


  1. ^ Jump up to:ab Jose Teixeira; Lin Tingting (2014). “Collaboration in the open-source arena: The WebKit case”. ACM SIGMIS CPR 2014. 52nd ACM conference on Computers and people research. Singapore: ACM. pp. 121–129. arXiv:1401.5996. doi:10.1145/2599990.2600009.
  2. ^ Jump up to:ab Maria Bengtsson; Sören Kock (2000). “Coopetition” in business Networks – to cooperate and compete simultaneously”. Industrial Marketing Management. 29 (5): 411–426. doi:10.1016/S0019-8501(99)00067-X.
  3. ^ Jump up to:ab c Maria Bengtsson; Sören Kock (2014). “Coopetition—Quo vadis? Past accomplishments and future challenges”. Industrial Marketing Management. 43 (2): 180–188. doi:10.1016/j.indmarman.2014.02.015.
  4. ^Eric von Hippel; Georg von Krogh (2003). “Open Source Software and the “Private-Collective” Innovation Model: Issues for Organization Science”. Organization Science. 14 (2): 209–223. doi:10.1287/orsc. hdl:1721.1/66145.
  5. ^Banzi, Massimo. “How Arduino is open-sourcing imagination @ TEDGlobal 2012”. TED. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  6. ^ Jump up to:ab Pär Ågerfalk; Brian Fitzgerald (2008). “Outsourcing to an Unknown Workforce: Exploring Opensorcing as a Global Sourcing Strategy”. MIS Quarterly. 32 (2): 385–409. doi:10.2307/25148845. JSTOR 25148845.
  7. ^Geir K. Hanssen (2012). “A longitudinal case study of an emerging software ecosystem: Implications for practice and theory”. Journal of Systems and Software. 85 (7): 1455–1466. doi:10.1016/j.jss.2011.04.020.
  8. ^Lyman, Jay (13 March 2012). “Open Source Coopetition Fueled by LF Growth”. LinuxInsider @ ECT News Network. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  9. ^Renski, Boris (5 Nov 2013). “OpenStack Co-Opetition: A View from Within” (Broadcast video). OpenStack Summit. Hong Kong: Openstack. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
  10. ^Matt Germonprez; J. Allen; Jamie Hill; Glenn McClements (2013). “Open source communities of competitors”. Interactions. 20(6): 54–49. doi:10.1145/2527191. S2CID 31725549.
  11. ^Jose Teixeira; Gregorio Robles; Jesús M. González-Barahona (2015). “Lessons learned from applying social network analysis on an industrial Free/Libre/Open Source Software ecosystem”. Journal of Internet Services and Applications. 6. arXiv:1507.04587. Bibcode:2015arXiv150704587T. doi:10.1186/s13174-015-0028-2.
  12. ^Johan Linåker; Patrick Rempel; Björn Regnell; Patrick Mäder (2016). “How Firms Adapt and Interact in Open Source Ecosystems: Analyzing Stakeholder Influence and Collaboration Patterns”. REFSQ 2016. 22nd International Working Conference on Requirements Engineering: Foundation for Software Quality. Göteborg, Sweden: Springer. pp. 63–81. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-30282-9_5.
  13. ^Jose Teixeira; Salman Mian; Ulla Hytti. “Cooperation among competitors in the open-source arena: The case of OpenStack”. ICIS 2016. 37th International Conference on Information Systems. Dublin, Ireland: AIS. arXiv:1612.09462. Bibcode:2016arXiv161209462T.
  14. ^Anh Nguyen Duc; Daniela Cruzes S.; Geir Hanssen K.; Pekka Abrahamsson; Terje Snarby (2017). “Coopetition of software firms in open source software ecosystems”. ICSOB 2017. 8th International Conference on Software Business. Essen, Germany: Springer.
  15. ^“Projects – The Linux Foundation”. Linux Foundation. Retrieved 11 Oct 2017. … hosting your project at The Linux Foundation, a neutral home for collaborative development.

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