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Upstream preview: The value of open source software

Caitlin Bixby
by Caitlin Bixby
on May 30, 2024

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Upstream is next week on June 5, and wow, our schedule is shaping up brilliantly. For the rest of this week, we’ll be giving you a sneak preview into some of the talks and the speakers giving them via posts like these. RSVP now!RSVP NOW

When asked about the estimated value of open source software, it’s likely assumed to be a big number—surely in the billions. However, a team at Harvard Business School and the University of Toronto took on the task of investigating the value of open source and found it was worth approximately 8.8 trillion dollars. (Read Tidelift co-founder and general counsel Luis Villa’s take on the announcement, including why he thinks it’s worth even more.) In comparison, the entire U.S. electrical grid is valued at 1.5- 2 trillion dollars, and the U.S. interstate highway system is valued at 750 billion dollars. 

Simply put: open source software is an exceptionally valuable resource. 

How did this number come to be? What does it mean for organizations using open source? Or those creating open source, the maintainers? Harvard Business School assistant professor Frank Nagle joins Luis Villa at this year’s Upstream on Wednesday, June 5, to explain how the project came to be, how he and his team landed on the headline-worthy 8.8 trillion dollar number, and why it’s never been a more apt time to discuss the importance of open source in the software supply chain.

If this number blows your mind (it should!) and you want to learn more, register for Upstream and power up your calculators on Wednesday, June 5. See you there!

About Frank Nagle

Frank Nagle is an assistant professor in the Strategy Unit at Harvard Business School. Professor Nagle studies how competitors can collaborate on the creation of core technologies, while still competing on the products and services built on top of them. His research falls into the broader categories of the future of work, the economics of IT, and digital transformation and considers how technology is weakening firm boundaries.

About Luis Villa

Luis Villa is co-founder and general counsel at Tidelift. Previously he was a top open source lawyer advising clients, from Fortune 50 companies to leading startups, on product development, open source licensing, and other matters. Luis is also an experienced open source community leader with organizations like the Wikimedia Foundation, where he served as deputy general counsel and then led the Foundation’s community engagement team. Before the Wikimedia Foundation, he was with Greenberg Traurig, where he counseled clients such as Google on open source licenses and technology transactions, and Mozilla, where he led the revision of the Mozilla Public License. 

He has served on the boards at the Open Source Initiative and the GNOME Foundation, and been an invited expert on the Patents and Standards Interest Group of the World Wide Web Consortium and the Legal Working Group of OpenStreetMap. Recent speaking engagements include RedMonk’s Monki Gras developer event, FOSDEM, and as a faculty member at the Practicing Law Institute’s Open Source Software programs. Luis holds a JD from Columbia Law School and studied political science and computer science at Duke University.

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