Users, aided by improvements in computer and communications technology, are increasingly developing their own new products and services: Innovation is being democratized. User-innovators—both individuals and firms—often freely share their innovations with others, creating user-innovation communities and a rich intellectual commons.
The trend toward democratized innovation affects both information products and physical products. Innovation by users can produce an increase in social welfare relative to a manufacturer-only innovation system. Innovation by "lead users" can provide a valuable feedstock for manufacturer innovation. It also can disrupt manufacturers' existing business models. User innovation is so robust that it can actually drive manufacturers out of product design in some fields.
Eric von Hippel is a professor and head of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He specializes in research related to the nature and economics of distributed and open innovation. He also develops and teaches about practical methods that firms can use to improve their product and service development processes.