Chapter 9: When are universities the locus of invention?
1 Scott Shane INTRODUCTION For at least the past 125 years, universities have played a valuable role in the US innovation system (Rosenberg and Nelson, 1994). Although the mechanisms through which universities contribute to technical development are multifaceted, including general research, the training of students, and assistance to the business community, in many cases, university researchers have played an important direct role as inventors of new technology. In fact, university inventions have been instrumental in the development of many fields, including scientific instruments, computers, biotechnology, and medical devices (Mowery and Rosenberg, 1998). However, the importance of universities as a source of invention has varied significantly across fields (Trajtenberg et al, 1997).2 For example, universities appear to be much more important sources of invention in biomedical fields than in other fields. This article provides and tests one explanation for why universities are a greater source of patented inventions in some lines of business than in others.3 Lines of business are characterized by trajectories of technical change that define the type of inventions that predominate in them (Dosi, 1982). One dimension in which lines of business differ is the degree to which technical change tends to take the form of product or process innovation (Klevorick et al, 1995). Universities are a greater source of invention in lines of business in which natural trajectories in process innovation are important, and a lesser source of invention in lines of business in which natural trajectories in product innovation are important. Von Hippel (1988) explains...
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