Craig Burton

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The Burtonian Technology Matrix

June 20th, 2011 · No Comments · Daily Thesis, Essays, feature, The Matrix


Figure 1 shows the Matrix. Here is the overview of how things work.


Figure 1—The Burtonian Technology Matrix

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The vertical axis is the accessibility scale. The horizontal axis is the ownership scale. On the upper end of the accessibility scale is located the Open definition. Note that the opposite of Open is not proprietary. Proprietary is orthogonal to Open. The opposite of Open is closed. The left side of the horizontal axis is the proprietary side of ownership. The right side of the matrix is the public domain scale of ownership.

Accessibility–Open vs. Closed

In this context, accessibility refers to amount of information about a given technology that is available to your constituency. The constituency refers to all aspects of entities with whom you communicate and have relationships with. It starts with yourselves, your employees and moves to your partners, customers, and finally to your competitors.

A fully “open” or accessible technology is one that has enough available published information to copy or reproduce the given technology. A fully “closed” technology is one that has little or no information available about the product. Good examples of a technology that can be examined in the accessibility axis are carbonated drinks. On the open side of carbonated drinks you could place Root Beer. Anybody can make Root Beer. You can buy Root Beer extract and make your own with a little sugar and some dry ice. On the closed side of the accessibility axis is Coca Cola. The recipe for Coca Cola is a closely guarded secret. The Coca Cola Company doesn’t want to “patent” the recipe because the patent would only expire. The way the company protects its accessibility to making Coke is by keeping it a secret.

Ownership–Proprietary vs. Public Domain

The word “proprietary” is one that has to do with ownership. Ownership can be thought of as a bundle of ownership rights. The proprietor of ownership whether it is property or technology has the ability to give up certain aspects of this bundle of rights. On the extreme side of the proprietary axis, no ownership rights have been granted or forfeited. On the other side of the axis is “public domain.” The extreme case of public domain is where the proprietor and forfeited all rights and has no claims of ownership. In fact, the ownership is then said to be in the domain of the public. In the US there is actually no actual case of public domain when it comes to property either intellectual or otherwise. But that is another issue.

An interesting case of proprietary that of Linux. Linus Torvalds owns the trademark Linux. He has not given up the ownership of that trademark. He does let others use it. I don’t know the details of those conditions, but there are conditions. Everyone thinks that the source code to Linux is in the public domain. It is not.

While Linux is licensed as open source, the fact is, nothing from any outsiders is ever going to make it into the kernel of Linux. Linus and his tightly controlled group of programmers completely control what goes into the kernel. Some programmer might make changes to the kernel, but unless this group approves it. It is not part of the official Linux release. It is a fork of the code.

The other aspect of the matrix is the “top half” of the matrix and the “bottom half.” In general, technologies found on the bottom half are technologies that can be easily monetized. Technologies on the upper half are generally used to stimulate the market and relationships and are less capable of being monetized. This is not always the case, but it is so in general.

Finally the question often comes up as to what fits in the lower right hand side of the matrix. If you think about for a moment, it is difficult to come up with a technology that is closed/public domain. If you think about a little longer, the only choice you can come up with for this quadrant is technology that has been has a patent.

How to Work the Matrix

There are no set rules for how to manage a given company and its technology in the matrix. Fortunately there are some guidelines that can be of help. There are three main things that have and effect of where a given technology sits in the matrix and when and where those settings change.

1. What is happening in the marketplace—what is happening with everything else at any point in time plays an important role on deciding what goes where in the matrix. Announcements, perceptions, new technologies, new competition, new customer practices. All of these things—and more—need to be considered.

2. Core competency—the context for all settings in the matrix is set by a technology organization—not matter how big or how small—core competency. What is it that a group can do best? Where does the most expertise apply? All of these things define core competency.

3. What is happening with your competition—it is always tempting to put this condition first in deciding how to play the matrix. It is important to resist that temptation and place it last—following market conditions and core competency. Focusing too much on what is happening with the competition will almost always skew the matrix.


There are many examples of companies that have played the matrix well. That will be presented in another discussion.


Looking at innovation, relationships, development priorities, what to keep closed and what to give away is the play of the Matrix. Looking at these issues, their conditions and results often make things clearer and can help greatly in deciding how to manage a strategy and its tactics.

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