Case studies

Case Studies

In the Handbook for Open Innovation, published by The Oxford University Press; Brunswicker (2023) lists and details case studies in multiple industries where open innovation concepts play a large part in solving complex problems. An overview of these cases is provided in the section below.

Overview of the cases

CompanyProjectOI ModeKey insights
HuaweiIoT cellular servicesMode 2Partnership coordination activities required to ensure success; Handling opportunistic behavior that prevents knowledge sharing
BoschInnovation contest on non-electric energy storageMode 3The effects of limited knowledge sharing, and limited horizontal interaction between actors; Anonymity as a solution seeker
PfizerDesign contest on the prefilled syringeMode 3Knowledge sharing within, and across teams; Overcoming internal resistance among team members towards open innovation approach
SamsungContest for add-on complements of the ARTIK IoT platformMode 3Managing knowledge sharing between internal and external partners/developers; Coordinated testing
Eli LillyDrug discovery community focused on bioactive componentsMode 4Supporting bi-lateral and vertical information sharing between internal and external teams; The importance of fostering a collaborative environment and motivating sharing through the implementation of IP and privacy mechanisms
Evonik IndustriesCommunity on vacuum technology in semiconductorsMode 4Expanding solution knowledge when internal knowledge is out of reach; Assembling partners and expertise to explore an emerging technology; Supporting deep knowledge exchange and integration from different actors across agencies; Positive effects of community driven self organizing practices
FordOpenXC community for smart mobility solutionsMode 4Facilitating the assembly of a developer community and platform design designs to support this; Knowledge sharing in open innovation using a combination of open source tools and licenses

Huawei partnership for IoT cellular services (mode 2)

This case discusses the partnership between Huawei and its partners including Texas Instruments, Motorola, IBM, Intel, Altera, Qualcomm, Infineon, and Microsoft to develop Internet of Things (IoT) cellular solutions. The R&D problem was complex but Huawei was well aware of which actors to partner with. The case discusses the goal of that partnership, centrally “coordinated” by Huawei. The case illustrates the high set-up and coordination effort that Huawei had to carry out to make the partnership a success. It also highlights how Huawei resolved the challenge of handling opportunistic behavior that prevents knowledge sharing. So-called customer-driven problem-solving was essential for aligning interest by focusing the exchange of knowledge and information on the end-users and their benefits. The partnership enabled Huawei to launch its 4.5G technology, setting the path from LTE (Long-term evolution) – 3G – to 5G. 4.5G further increases data rates for better user experience and expands applications in vertical industries (the full case is available online). (Detailed case study for Open Innovation at Huawei).

Bosch open innovation contest for energy storage (mode 3)

This case discusses how the German company Bosch used an open innovation contest to identify a new non-electrochemical energy storage solution. Before the launch of the open innovation project, Bosch was still relying on traditional electrochemical energy storage technology. With the emphasis on greater sustainability, their innovation goal was to identify an alternative technology that could substitute the existing electrochemical storage solution. The case suggests that from the perspective of the team at Bosch, the problem of finding non-electrochemical energy storage was relatively well structured. However, they did not know where to find potential solution providers (hiddenness of knowledge). Jointly with NineSigma, the team at Bosch launched an open innovation contest. The case articulates that knowledge sharing was limited and only focused on sharing problem-related information. There was limited horizontal interaction among the contest participants. It also highlights that Bosch invested a lot of time in formulating the problem. Bosch emphasized anonymity as a solution seeker to avoid disclosing their technology interest publicly. So, “abstracting” the problem from the actual solution context had competitive reasons. At the same time, from a creativity perspective, abstraction was beneficial for problem-solving as it facilitated the participants to explore more diverse and novel solutions. The case discusses vertical knowledge-sharing challenges, and also summarizes the business impact of the project (Detailed case study for Open Innovation at Bosch).

Pfizer design contest on the prefilled syringe (mode 3)

This case describes how an open innovation team at Pfizer used an open innovation contest to solve an internal innovation problem of one of their R&D teams: The team looked for a new design for a tech-enabled locker for prefilled syringes. The case articulates that the R&D problem was considered as being low in complexity but “hidden” in terms of knowledge. To solve this problem, a dedicated open innovation team at Pfizer decided to work with IdeaConnection, an open innovation intermediary that worked on behalf of Pfizer to find solutions in a timely, and cost-effective way. IdeaConnection specializes in team-based problem-solving services allowing direct communication inside external solver teams but limiting communication between those teams. The case discusses the nature of knowledge sharing within and across the teams and discusses its implications for success. It also highlights the managerial challenges that the Pfizer team faced to successfully implement the contest. It also articulates how a dedicated open innovation team had to overcome internal resistance among the R&D team members to use an open innovation approach for solving the problem (Detailed case study for Open Innovation at Pfizer).

Samsung’s contest for add-on complements of IoT platform ARTIK (mode 3)

The case describes how an R&D team at Samsung used an open innovation contest to solve an R&D problem related to the platform technology ARTIK: an embedded hardware and software platform. At the time of the writing of the case study, ARTIK was still in development. ARTIK included a set of embedded hardware modules with onboard memory, advanced processing power, cloud connectivity, security features, and a software stack, which offers other developers the opportunity to create IoT applications in various fields of applications – from wearables to home automation, or smart lighting. ARTIK Samsung offered a family of core modules. The R&D team used an R&D contest to identify solutions for complementary hardware and software applications that build upon those core modules. Samsung delineated the task of developing complementary applications and extensions for ARTIK from the ‘core’ modules through interfaces (so-called APIs). The case states that from the perspective of the R&D team, the R&D problem is well structured. They had developed software development kits (SDKs) that would allow external developers to build solutions on top of the platform. The contest began before the platform was officially launched to the market (a beta version with a toolkit was available but not on sale yet). With the help of a contest, Samsung motivated more than 100 developers to work with their platform to develop a complementary solution before the IoT platform was publicly available for purchase. The case discusses the challenges in managing knowledge between the Samsung team and external developers. Offering access to the ARTIK technology to the public before the proof-of-concept stage is risky as it could lead to technical failures when multiple participants change a technical system. Further, external parties may also act opportunistically. While the innovation contest was considered a success at the time of the writing of the case study, ARTIK eventually failed. In 2019, Samsung decided to halt the project (Detailed case study for Open Innovation at Samsung).

Eli Lilly drug discovery community for bioactive compounds (mode 4)

This case discusses how El Lilly uses its Open Innovation Drug Discovery (OIDD) platform to create a community of scientists who identify compounds and molecules of a particular biological activity. For many desired pharmaceutical applications, the optimal chemical structure is often unknown, and the network of scientists working on different molecules is widespread. The case explicates why finding the right molecular structure is a complex problem. It also states that from El Lilly’s point of view solutions to that problem were hidden. The case shows that Lilly’s platform design efforts focused on supporting bilateral, vertical information sharing between Lilly’s internal scientists and external teams. At the same time, it also fosters collaboration among external scientists horizontally. It also points out the challenges to motivate both types of data and knowledge-sharing activities by designing the appropriate IP and privacy mechanisms. The OIDD platform creates a collaborative virtual environment that allows external problem solvers to share their new chemical designs, use tools that analyze and test their proposed structure through advanced chemical informatics tools, and generate biological data based on the physical compound sample. The scientists benefit by gaining access to resources that automate the testing and evaluation of new compounds. If a compound meets basic structural criteria, Lilly offers access to more tools and even assists with synthesizing its new structures (Detailed case study for Open Innovation at Eli Lilly).

Evonik Industries community on vacuum technology in semiconductors (mode 4)

This case discusses how Evonik Industries assembled a community to innovate in the area of vacuum technologies in semiconductors. At the time of the case study, the elimination of vacuum-based processes in the production of electronic devices was an emerging problem. Solutions to this problem are essential for applications like flexible and printable electronic devices. The case articulates that this R&D problem implied high uncertainty and was considered complex. Further, the team at Evonik Industries realized that this problem is not just complex but also includes potential solution knowledge that is beyond what their internal team knows. Thus, the Evonik team decided that it needed a diverse number of new partners to explore this emerging technological area. The case details how the Evonik team assembled and managed a community of a large number of diverse partners, in which they encouraged high horizontal communication activities. The goal was to support deep knowledge exchange and integration among the diverse actors from industry, universities, and research centers. The case also discusses how the Evonik team realizes principles of community-driven self-organizing. Even though Evonik acted as a sponsor of the community, who actively shaped the community-based co-creation, they did not control “top-down” (Detailed case study for Open Innovation at Evonik).

Ford OpenXC community for smart mobility solutions (mode 4)

The case describes how an R&D team at Ford uses the open source/open access software and hardware platform OpenXC to launch an open innovation community that develops “smart” mobility solutions. Smart mobility problems are ill-structured and difficult to define. They require local solutions that consider the specific conditions of a particular urban area or city: the mobility patterns, local weather conditions, and the existing physical and digital infrastructure. Further, the value of a solution is often very dependent upon individual preferences or social and cultural context (e.g. personality, individual mobility preferences, social expectations, social influence of peers, etc.). The case discusses how the OpenXC platform facilitates the assembly of a developer community, in which developers use Ford vehicle data to design smart mobility solutions. The platform provides developers access to 19 types of machine-readable datasets from Ford vehicles. The case articulates why the Ford R&D team made certain design decisions related to the platform. It discusses how this open innovation mode can manage to share knowledge and IP with the public using a combination of open source and open access licenses. It also articulates how technical interfaces (APIs) resolve the tension between sharing and protecting (Detailed case study for Open Innovation at Ford).


HP. (2004). HP News - HP and DreamWorks Give Innovation a Starring Role in ‘Shrek 2.’ (Accessed July 25, 2022).

Brunswicker, S. (2023). Teaching Engineers about Open Innovation. In H. Chesbrough, A. Radziwon, W. Vanhaverbeke, & J. West (Eds.), Handbook for Open Innovation. Oxford University Press.