Edited by Stuart J. Smyth, Peter W.B. Phillips and David Castle
Chapter 51: Tomatoes, potatoes and flax: exploring the cost of lost innovations
The history of technological development and adoption is an interesting blend of 'eurekas' with unequivocal market 'failures'. That said, many good, viable technologies have entered the market at a full-scale run only to be usurped by competing technologies that are often only equivalent or, even in some cases, sub-par in nature. Take for instance MS-DOS and IBM, which came to dominate the corporate office suite market with Microsoft Office. The system was not superior to Apple's but IBM definitely had first-mover advantage (and buy-in from the corporate world) which led to their control of the market. The company also had the foresight to integrate spreadsheet technology into their product offering; an important and saleable feature for business. This is an example of a product adoption wherein 'path dependency', lock-in or network effects generated some form of 'market power' that plays a significant role in the lack of adoption of a good technology. The history of agricultural biotechnology and food-related technologies has been even more unpredictable. Many products have been introduced to the market with the capacity to enhance agronomic traits and food production. They are backed by solid science and research and have navigated a costly and rigid regulatory approval process. They are, for all intents and purposes, superior products (when compared with contemporary products). But, in this highly politicized food environment, this matters little.
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