Innovation in Low-Tech Firms and Industries
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Innovation in Low-Tech Firms and Industries

Edited by Hartmut Hirsch-Kreinsen and David Jacobson

It is a general understanding that the advanced economies are currently undergoing a fundamental transformation into knowledge-based societies. There is a firm belief that this is based on the development of high-tech industries. Correspondingly, in this scenario low-tech sectors appear to be less important. A critique of this widely held belief is the starting point of this book. It is often overlooked that many of the current innovation activities are linked to developments inside the realm of low-tech. Thus the general objective of the book is to contribute to a discussion concerning the relevance of low-tech industries for industrial innovativeness in the emerging knowledge economy.
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Chapter 6: Distributed Knowledge Bases in Low- and Medium-Technology Industries

Paul L. Robertson and Keith Smith


6. Distributed knowledge bases in lowand medium-technology industries Paul L. Robertson and Keith Smith INTRODUCTION The study of innovation has always focused on learning, just as public policies for science, technology and innovation have always been aimed primarily at creating and diffusing knowledge. In recent years however, the focus of learning and knowledge generation has become broader as firms have embraced an increasingly wide range of sources when undertaking innovation. Although this tendency – which is sometimes associated with ‘open innovation’ – is not, in fact, new (Chesbrough, 2003; Christensen, 2006), it does present a more balanced view of the creation and use of knowledge than has been provided by older concepts according to which, through research and development activities, new science eventually inspires new technology which in turn helps to foster new products and processes, without any provision for significant feedback (Kline and Rosenberg, 1986). Our emphasis in this chapter is on the generation and use of knowledge in established industries which constitute by far the largest share of the manufacturing and service sectors in most developed economies. Although relatively old, even mature in some cases, these industries are on balance reasonably innovative. They engage in frequent changes in both product and process technologies which, although perhaps less spectacular (in a literal sense) than some of the innovations in newer industries, contribute substantially to their own productivity and competitiveness and to better macroeconomic performance. Through innovation, established industries not only benefit themselves but, in their role as consumers...

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