Under the Lens: The Geography of Optical Science as an Emerging Industry
Optical science is the study of light and the ways in which light interacts with matter. Although its origins coincide with the earliest scientific inquiry, modern optics is an enabling technology that is applied to a variety of intermediate markets-telecommunication equipment, medical devices, scientific instruments, semiconductors, imaging and reproduction, defense and security, and retail logistics. One difficulty in studying emerging technology is the limitation of current industrial categories and patent classes. This article examines the geography of optical science inventions using a new methodology that can be applied to study other emerging industries. We rely on companies that self-identify as working on optics on the basis of their voluntary membership in the Optics Society of America. We investigate the inventive activity of these companies from 2004 to 2007 and identify a set of International Patent Classes that defines the emergent technology space in optical science. Using this definition, we then analyze all the organizations that are inventing in optical science. We find that inventive activity is geographically concentrated: patenting takes place in 240 urban areas, although 84 percent of the patents were invented in 30 metropolitan areas and almost 50 percent were attributed to 11 metropolitan areas. The article considers the organizations that are shaping the emerging technology and the consequences for geographic clusters. Our results reveal that the geographic distribution of inventive activity does not reflect the location of self-designated regional optics clusters in the United States but suggests a more nuanced understanding of the emergence of industries. We conclude by considering lessons about the development of clusters in emerging industries. Copyright (c) 2010 Clark University.
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Volume (Year): 86 (2010)
Issue (Month): 2 (04)
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