NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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How Innovative Are Innovations? A Multidimensional, Survey-Based Approach

Wesley M. Cohen, You-Na Lee, John P. Walsh


This chapter is a preliminary draft unless otherwise noted. It may not have been subjected to the formal review process of the NBER. This page will be updated as the chapter is revised.

Chapter in forthcoming NBER book Measuring and Accounting for Innovation in the Twenty-First Century, Carol Corrado, Jonathan Haskel, Javier Miranda, and Daniel Sichel, organizers
Conference held March 10–11, 2017
Forthcoming from University of Chicago Press
in NBER Book Series Studies in Income and Wealth

We suggest that, with proper design, innovation surveys can provide valuable data on innovation rates that inform judgments about whether the reported innovations are important, and in what sense, thus making such data more interpretable than claims that such innovations are simply “new.” First, we recommend asking respondents questions about a specific innovation in an identified line of business. Second, we recommend asking respondents to characterize their innovations in terms of different features that potentially link to the social welfare impact of the innovation. We propose five such features: technological significance, utility, uniqueness, imitability, and how different the innovation is from what the innovating firm has previously commercialized (what we call “distance” or the “implementation gap”). The paper then illustrates the utility of our approach by, first, using newly collected data to construct measures corresponding to the proposed dimensions of innovation. We then use those measures to inform judgments about the importance of innovations in different industries. By recognizing the distinct features of innovations, we also showed how these features, when combined in novel and distinct ways, can provide a more nuanced view of innovation and its complexity.

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