IEEE Spectrum got executives of the leading closed source and open source robotics companies to debate their models at a cocktail party. Here's an excerpt, but it's worth reading the whole thing. [You already know where I come down on this issue]
[At left, iRobot CEO Colin] Angle suggested that Willow Garage's approach of freely providing such a key component as the robotic operating system -- and the extensive libraries that go with ROS, not to mention its source code -- was tantamount to letting the biggest consumer electronics giants gobble up any mass market applications and re-market them globally at low cost because they already have (or could easily reverse-engineer) the hardware, could produce it cheaply, the operating system was free courtesy of ROS, and the only real cost was the acquisition of the application.
Angle thought that the approach was dangerous and led to losing a potentially U.S./European market to offshore commodity conglomerates. (The dangers of losing trade secrets to foreign conglomerates was the subject of a recentBloomberg Businessweek issue.) He added, "Robotics innovation represents a tremendous opportunity for economic growth akin to automobiles, aerospace, and information technology. If we are to freely share our 'intellectual capital' on the open market we risk losing the economic engine that will advance our economies and send growth and jobs overseas."
It was [Willow Garage executive Robert] Bauer's turn now, and he argued that Willow Garage's objectives were to stimulate the industry by enabling participants to not have to reinvent the many cross-science elements of robotics ventures; to reuse software under the premise that by so doing it saves developer time and allows researchers to focus on research. By giving them free access to the tools, libraries, and simulation capabilities of ROS, Willow Garage hopes to advance the state-of-the-art in autonomous robotics technologies -- and the commercial applications will follow.