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Why are some independent inventors 'heroes' and others 'hobbyists'? The moderating role of technological diversity and specialization

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  • Lettl, Christopher
  • Rost, Katja
  • von Wartburg, Iwan

Abstract

Despite a substantial body of research investigating the market significance of inventions by independent inventors, relatively little attention has been devoted to understanding their technological significance. A recent study conducted by [Dahlin, K., Taylor, M., Fichman, M., 2004. Today's Edisons or weekend hobbyists: technical impact and success of inventions by independent inventors. Res. Policy 33, 1167-1183] on the tennis racket industry shows that independent inventors are a heterogeneous group which includes both "heroes" who contribute substantially to technological progress and "hobbyists" who make only a marginal contribution. What is not asked - and therefore not explained - is why this distinction arises. In this paper, we focus on the type of prior technological knowledge (in terms of technological specialization and diversity) applied by independent inventors and their corporate counterparts as a factor explaining differences in technological impact. Our empirical setting is the field of medical equipment technology. We find that independent inventors are more sensitive to the negative effects of technological diversity than their corporate counterparts. Furthermore, our study reveals that technological specialization pays off more for independent inventors than for their corporate counterparts. Therefore, those independent inventors who apply low degrees of diversity and high degrees of specialization are capable of reaching the same level as or even outperforming their corporate counterparts, thus becoming "heroes". Based on our findings, we discuss implications for research and corporate practice.

Suggested Citation

  • Lettl, Christopher & Rost, Katja & von Wartburg, Iwan, 2009. "Why are some independent inventors 'heroes' and others 'hobbyists'? The moderating role of technological diversity and specialization," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 243-254, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:respol:v:38:y:2009:i:2:p:243-254
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    Cited by:

    1. Crescenzi, Riccardo & Nathan, Max & Rodríguez-Pose, Andrés, 2016. "Do inventors talk to strangers? On proximity and collaborative knowledge creation," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 177-194.
    2. Battke, Benedikt & Schmidt, Tobias S. & Stollenwerk, Stephan & Hoffmann, Volker H., 2016. "Internal or external spillovers—Which kind of knowledge is more likely to flow within or across technologies," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(1), pages 27-41.
    3. Cristina Páez-Avilés & Frank J. Rijnsoever & Esteve Juanola-Feliu & Josep Samitier, 2018. "Multi-disciplinarity breeds diversity: the influence of innovation project characteristics on diversity creation in nanotechnology," The Journal of Technology Transfer, Springer, vol. 43(2), pages 458-481, April.
    4. Riccardo Crescenzi & Luisa Gagliardi, 2015. "Moving People with Ideas - Innovation, Inter-regional Mobility and Firm Heterogeneity," SERC Discussion Papers 0174, Spatial Economics Research Centre, LSE.
    5. Burak Dindaroğlu, 2018. "Determinants of patent quality in U.S. manufacturing: technological diversity, appropriability, and firm size," The Journal of Technology Transfer, Springer, vol. 43(4), pages 1083-1106, August.
    6. Schweisfurth, Tim G., 2017. "Comparing internal and external lead users as sources of innovation," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 238-248.
    7. Brennecke, Julia & Rank, Olaf, 2017. "The firm’s knowledge network and the transfer of advice among corporate inventors—A multilevel network study," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 46(4), pages 768-783.
    8. Adams, Pamela & Fontana, Roberto & Malerba, Franco, 2013. "The magnitude of innovation by demand in a sectoral system: The role of industrial users in semiconductors," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 1-14.
    9. Manuel Acosta & Daniel Coronado & M. Ángeles Martínez, 2018. "Does technological diversification spur university patenting?," The Journal of Technology Transfer, Springer, vol. 43(1), pages 96-119, February.
    10. Boons, Mark & Stam, Daan, 2019. "Crowdsourcing for innovation: How related and unrelated perspectives interact to increase creative performance," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 48(7), pages 1758-1770.
    11. Talke, Katrin & Salomo, Sören & Rost, Katja, 2010. "How top management team diversity affects innovativeness and performance via the strategic choice to focus on innovation fields," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(7), pages 907-918, September.
    12. Walter, Sascha G. & Schmidt, Arne & Walter, Achim, 2016. "Patenting rationales of academic entrepreneurs in weak and strong organizational regimes," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(2), pages 533-545.
    13. Papazoglou, Michalis E. & Spanos, Yiannis E., 2018. "Bridging distant technological domains: A longitudinal study of the determinants of breadth of innovation diffusion," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 47(9), pages 1713-1728.
    14. Aaron K. Chatterji & Kira Fabrizio, 2012. "How Do Product Users Influence Corporate Invention?," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 23(4), pages 971-987, August.
    15. Rost, Katja, 2011. "The strength of strong ties in the creation of innovation," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 40(4), pages 588-604, May.
    16. Subtil Lacerda, Juliana & van den Bergh, Jeroen C.J.M., 2016. "Diversity in solar photovoltaic energy: Implications for innovation and policy," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 54(C), pages 331-340.
    17. Boh, Wai Fong & Evaristo, Roberto & Ouderkirk, Andrew, 2014. "Balancing breadth and depth of expertise for innovation: A 3M story," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 349-366.
    18. Kinsuk Mani Sinha & Pamela Adams & Franco Malerba, 2015. "Intermediate Users as a Source of Innovation in a Development Context: Empirical Evidence and Theory," Globelics Working Paper Series 2015-14, Globelics - Global Network for Economics of Learning, Innovation, and Competence Building Systems, Aalborg University, Department of Business and Management.

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