NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Acquisition and Commercialization of Invention in American Manufacturing: Incidence and Impact

Ashish Arora, Wesley M. Cohen, John P. Walsh

NBER Working Paper No. 20264
Issued in June 2014
NBER Program(s):   PR

Recent accounts suggest the development and commercialization of invention has become more "open." Greater division of labor between inventors and innovators can enhance social welfare through gains from trade and greater economies of specialization. Moreover, this extensive reliance upon outside sources for invention also suggests that understanding the factors that condition the extramural supply of inventions to innovators is crucial to understanding the determinants of the rate and direction of innovative activity.

This paper reports on a recent survey of over 6000 American manufacturing and service sector firms on the extent to which innovators rely upon external sources of invention. Our results indicate that, between 2007 and 2009, 18% of manufacturing firms had innovated - meaning had introduced a product that was new to the market. Of these, 49% report that their most important new product had originated from an outside source, notably customers, suppliers and technology specialists. We also estimate the contribution of each source to innovation in the US economy. Although customers are the most frequent outside source, inventions acquired from customers tend to be economically less significant than those from technology specialists. As a group, external sources of invention make a significant contribution to the overall rate of innovation in the economy. Indeed, results from a multinomial logit model suggest that, were the outside availability of innovation to be removed, the percentage of innovating firms in the U.S. manufacturing sector would drop from 18% to 10%.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20264

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