The impact of immigration on US economic development has become a controversial issue in recent policy debates. This column, arising from a study linking Federal Census data with patent records, examines the historical role of immigrant inventors in the process of US technological innovation. Immigrant inventors appear to have been of central importance to American innovation during the 19th and 20th centuries, both through their own inventive activity and through their influence on domestic inventors.
Ufuk Akcigit, John Grigsby, Tom Nicholas, 27 March 2017
William Maloney, Felipe Valencia Caicedo, 24 March 2017
The generation and diffusion of scientific knowledge and technology are assumed to be drivers of modern economic growth, but there is a lack of firm empirical evidence of this. This column uses the first detailed data on the density of engineers in the western hemisphere to argue that historical differences in innovative capacity, as captured by the density of engineers in 1880, explain a significant fraction of the Great Divergence. The results confirm the imperative of developing higher-order human capital.
David Autor, David Dorn, Gordon Hanson, Gary P. Pisano, Pian Shu, 20 March 2017
The discussion of the decline in US manufacturing during the 2016 presidential election campaign largely focused on job losses. This column examines the effects of Chinese import competition on another metric for the health of the US manufacturing sector – innovation. Firms whose industries were exposed to a greater surge of Chinese import competition from 1991 to 2007 experienced a significant decline in their patent output as well as their R&D expenditures. While politicians’ ‘obsession’ with manufacturing is primarily due to job losses, an accompanying reduction in innovation may well affect economic growth in the longer term.
Martin Watzinger, Thomas Fackler, Markus Nagler, Monika Schnitzer, 19 February 2017
There is growing concern that dominant companies use patents strategically to keep competitors from entering their market. This column uses the landmark 1956 Consent Decree against Bell Labs to explore whether antitrust enforcement is an effective remedy to the problem. Results show that patents can indeed be used as an entry barrier for start-up firms, and that the compulsory licensing of patents can foster market entry and innovation. However, compulsory licensing is found to be ineffective in markets where dominant firms have other means of market foreclosure.
Daron Acemoglu, Ufuk Akcigit, William Kerr, 20 January 2017
Innovation is typically seen as a cumulative process, with new technologies building on existing knowledge - but our knowledge of how progress in a specific area is influenced by knowledge in other, ‘upstream’ areas is limited. Using US patent data, this column identifies a stable ‘innovation network’ that serves as a conduit for cumulative knowledge development. Technological advances in one field can advance progress in multiple neighbouring fields, but will have a stronger influence on more closely related areas.
Monika Schnitzer, 30 September 2016
How do patents affect innovation? In this video, Monika Schnitzer uses the example of Bell labs to explain how compulsory licensing leads to more innovation. This video was recorded during the European Economic Association's Congress held in Geneva at the end of August 2016.
Daron Acemoglu, Jacob Moscona, James Robinson, 27 June 2016
The ‘great inventions’ view of productivity growth ascribes the excellent growth from 1920 to 1970 in the US to a handful of advances, and suggests that today poor productivity performance is driven by a lack of breakthrough discoveries. This column argues instead that the development of an effective governmental infrastructure in the 19th century accounted for a major part of US technological progress and prominence in this period. Infrastructure design thus appears to have the power to reinvigorate technological progress.
Ross Levine, Chen Lin, Lai Wei, 27 May 2016
Economic theory offers conflicting perspectives on the relationship between insider trading and innovation. To date, the empirical evidence is similarly inconclusive. This column exploits the staggered enforcement of inside trading laws across countries to explore the effect on patenting behaviour. The findings point to a robust positive effect of enforcement on various measures of patenting behaviour. Legal systems that protect outside investors from corporate insiders thus help to foster innovation.
Bronwyn Hall, Christian Helmers, Georg von Graevenitz, 23 April 2016
Patent filings have proliferated globally in recent years. While some may see this as a direct consequence of increased innovation, this column uses evidence from the UK to show that patent thickets – patents belonging to many companies protecting overlapping technology – reduce innovation. Patent thickets decrease entry (i.e. first time patenting in an area) by 20%, which is substantial bearing in mind that the average probability of entry into a technology area is only about 1.5%.
Nobuaki Hamaguchi, Keisuke Kondo, 07 February 2016
There is no consensus on the effects of agglomeration on innovation. This column presents new evidence on how knowledge turnover impacts the quality of innovation. Agglomerated regions with active knowledge turnover, as measured by interregional migration of university graduates, tend to have a higher number of patent citations, the metric used for quality of innovation. Cluster policy aimed at active innovation may not be effective if interregional migration of knowledge workers is inactive.
Alberto Galasso, Mark Schankerman, 07 January 2016
Economists take a keen interest in patent rights and their effect on innovation. The primary argument for the existence of patents is, after all, that they incentivise entrepreneurs to seek profit through innovating. This column looks at how patent rights affect innovation by small and large firms, finding that the results vary greatly depending on size.
Sari Pekkala Kerr, William Kerr, 12 December 2015
The globalisation of innovation is proceeding at a fast pace. This column argues that the ethnic composition of a firm’s US-based inventive work force is an important factor in whether the firm engages in international collaborations. Collaborative patents are often utilised when a US public company is entering into a new foreign region for innovative work. This is especially notable in markets with weak intellectual property protections.
Hiroyasu Inoue, Kentaro Nakajima, Yukiko Saito, 11 February 2015
Despite vast improvements in information and communications technology, the tendency of firms in related industries to cluster together hardly changed between 1985 and 2005. This column examines the relationship between geographic clustering and innovation using establishment-level data from Japan. Research establishments – especially those in high-technology industries – are more localised than average. The degree of localisation is greater when establishments are weighted by their creativity, as measured by the number of patents created and the number of citations received.
Iain Cockburn, Jean Lanjouw, Mark Schankerman, 22 November 2014
Patented pharmaceuticals diffuse across international borders slowly, and sometimes not at all. This column analyses the effect of patent protection and price regulation on the speed of and extent to which drugs enter new markets. There is a fundamental tradeoff between affordability – taking the form of low patent protection and strong price regulation – and rate of entry into a national market.
Masayuki Morikawa, 20 July 2014
Innovation is a key driver of productivity growth, but innovation in the service sector has received relatively little attention. This column shows that the total factor productivity gap between Japanese firms with and without innovations is larger in services than in manufacturing. Whereas the percentage of firms holding patents is much higher in manufacturing than in services, trade secrets are just as important in both sectors. These results suggest that the protection of trade secrets makes an important contribution to productivity growth.
Chris Forman, Avi Goldfarb, Shane Greenstein, 23 May 2014
The diffusion of the internet has had varying effects on the location of economic activity, leading to both increases and decreases in geographic concentration. This column presents evidence that the internet worked against increasing concentration in invention. This relationship is particularly strong for inventions with more than one inventor, and when inventors live in different cities.
Thomas Holmes, Ellen McGrattan, Edward Prescott, 08 November 2013
Why are FDI flows between China and technologically-advanced countries surprisingly small? This column analyses the issue in light of China's quid pro quo policy that makes technology transfer a precondition of foreign firms selling in China. We find that the policy provides significant gains for China, but losses to its FDI partners.
Otto Toivanen, Lotta Väänänen, 21 July 2013
Policymakers are worried that the number of inventors coming from the West is dwindling. Is the rising cost of higher education putting off innovative individuals? And are China, India and other emerging economies right to invest so heavily in academic subjects that produce inventors? This column argues that the number of inventors can be increased through the right educational policy. New research based on data from Finland and the US provides a justification for the policies adopted by emerging economies, and for Western policymakers’ worries about the decline of interest in Engineering and Science.
Carsten Fink, Ernest Miguelez, Julio Raffo, 17 July 2013
Migration is a hot-button issue across the globe. This column summarises new evidence on the patterns of skilled-worker migration, focusing on the specific case of inventors. A novel data source that traces worldwide migration flows for inventors suggests that, excluding a few nuances, the economic incentives for general migration also seem to influence inventors’ migration decisions.
Alberto Galasso, Mark Schankerman, 14 May 2013
Do patents encourage innovation? This column presents a new analysis, suggesting that patent rights block cumulative innovation only in very specific environments. To encourage innovation, remedial government policies should be targeted; a ‘broad based’ scaling back of patent rights is unlikely to be appropriate. Policies and institutions should facilitate more efficient licensing, promoting cumulative innovation without diluting the innovation incentives that patents provide.