Feasibility study: Sovereign Tech Fund

German state should invest €10m to strengthen open source community and improve security

Published on: 07/12/2021
Last update: 08/12/2021

Open source software is digital public infrastructure, yet it is not receiving the funding necessary to ensure the sustainability of important projects. Based on this assumption, a feasibility study funded by the German Ministry for Economy and Energy suggests a “Sovereign Tech Fund” to be created to plug funding holes in the open source software ecosystem.

The feasibility study, based on interviews, analysed the status quo of the open source ecosystem and found that action was necessary. Even though open source has reached a high level of relevance and according to data 99% of Fortune 500 companies employ open source software, digital infrastructure has not grown in step with this. This has lead to an increased fragility of the ecosystem and has shown itself in a growing risk of security vulnerabilities.

The study criticised the dominance of the “innovation discourse”, leading to a neglect in the areas of maintenance and scaling. And while usage is high, the understanding of open source as digital infrastructure was identified as too low, with a lack of support instruments and exchange between possible funding parties. Other funding instruments such as the Open Technology Fund were under threat. This means the risks remain largely unmitigated.

The authors from the Open Knowledge Foundation thus suggest a state funded instrument to achieve “sustainably strengthening the open source ecosystem, with a focus on security, resilience, technological diversity and the people behind the projects.”

The study evaluated different structures for the fund and suggests a one-stop-shop as the most beneficial model. The funding would not only be open for applications, but employees of the new organisation would themselves actively search for critical digital infrastructure projects that would see a particularly large effect from the funding.

According to the plans, the new agency would fund up to 30 projects per year. Projects could receive amounts between €50.000-€500.000, for a total yearly cost of €10m. Thus especially bigger projects could be funded more generously than is possible today with for example the NGI funding of the European Commission.

The study is for now only a recommendation to the German state. The coalition agreement of the new government foresees a significant emphasis on increasing Germany’s “digital sovereignty”, with plans for a possible Centre for Digital Sovereignty having been made public in the summer of 2021. The outgoing Economic Affairs Ministry's Commissioner for the Digital Industry and Start-ups Thomas Jarzombek said about the study that “the maintenance and further development of open source basic technologies is an indispensable basis for promoting innovation and contributing to digital sustainability. It is in the national and European interest to maintain this ecosystem.”