14 October 2010
The lack of intellectual property gave the Soviet Union an advantage in the Cold War

Seen in a piece on the AK-47 linked to by Instapundit:

That was how the Soviet Union designed much of its suite of military equipment. Rival teams were given a set of specification and deadlines, and through a series of stages the teams presented prototypes, and contest supervisors winnowed the field. Stalin liked these contests. They created urgency and a strong sense of priorities, and they helped speed along development. This was also a system without patents or even notions of intellectual property, at least as we know them in the West. So design convergence was part of the process—the teams and the judges, as time passed, could mix and match features from different submissions. Think of a game of Mr. Potato Head. Now imagine a similar game, in which many different elements and features of an automatic rifle are available to you, and more are available at each cycle, and you can gradually pluck the best features and assemble them into a new whole. In some ways, this was the process here.

It was always been a great puzzle to me how the half-way capitalist Tsarists managed to lose their world war while the full-on commies won theirs.  My explanation had always been that the disciplines learnt under the Tsar and the extraordinary growth that Russia experienced prior to the First World War, somehow kept going.  But, surely, twenty years of Leninist, followed by Stalinist communism will destroy anything.  Or, maybe, that Allied aid to the Soviets was more than we tend to think.  The explanation that it’s to do with intellectual property seems far more plausible.  And it also explains why the Soviets were good at military stuff but lousy at everything else.

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  1. So design convergence was part of the process—the teams and the judges, as time passed, could mix and match features from different submissions.

    This is pretty much exactly how the US Air Force and its predecessors work, too. Five companies would be given money to develop prototypes. There would be a series of fly-offs, and one or two will be eliminated at each stage. Anything good in the eliminated aircraft would be adopted by the teams still left in, often by winners forming joint-ventures with losers. When you eventually got to a winner, the plane might well have ended up being a collaboration between most of the companies that initially did the bidding, but with the best features of all their bids.

    At least that was the idea. It works less well these days, as there are not enough large defence contractors left after a great many mergers.

    Posted by Michael Jennings on 26 October 2010 at 12:26pm

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