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Middle Innovation Trap


  • Jeong-Dong Lee

    () (Seoul National University (South Korea))

  • Chulwoo Baek

    () (Duksung Women’s University (South Korea))

  • Sira Maliphol

    () (Seoul National University (South Korea))

  • Jung-In Yeon

    () (Seoul National University (South Korea))


The middle income trap requires strategies for building technological capabilities to overcome it. This study focuses on the development patterns of two types of technological capabilities: implementation and concept design. A conceptual approach developed from evolutionary economics and innovation systems literature is constructed to distinguish between the types of technological capabilities and how they develop. The approach is mainly applied to the cases of Korea’s development and it highlights the differences in developing implementation and concept design capabilities.The findings of the study emphasize the need for the development of concept design capabilities, which requires (i) setting challenging targets, (ii) developing human resources, infrastructure and knowledge accumulation, and (iii) using an incremental process of trial-and-error and course correction. More broadly, sociocultural institutions may need to be changed to accommodate higher risk-taking but also require different approaches to change. The study extends the concept of technological capabilities by emphasizing the concept design capability that requires trial-and-error beyond R&D activities.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeong-Dong Lee & Chulwoo Baek & Sira Maliphol & Jung-In Yeon, 2019. "Middle Innovation Trap," Foresight and STI Governance (Foresight-Russia till No. 3/2015), National Research University Higher School of Economics, vol. 13(1), pages 6-18.
  • Handle: RePEc:hig:fsight:v:13:y:2019:i:1:p:6-18

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Maurizio Zollo & Sidney G. Winter, 2002. "Deliberate Learning and the Evolution of Dynamic Capabilities," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 13(3), pages 339-351, June.
    2. Pietrobelli C. & Puppato F., 2015. "Technology foresight and industrial strategy in developing countries," MERIT Working Papers 2015-016, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
    3. World Bank, 2014. "World Development Indicators 2014," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 18237, Juni.
    4. Thomke, Stefan & von Hippel, Eric & Franke, Roland, 1998. "Modes of experimentation: an innovation process--and competitive--variable," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 27(3), pages 315-332, July.
    5. Marco Vivarelli, 2016. "The middle income trap: a way out based on technological and structural change," Economic Change and Restructuring, Springer, vol. 49(2), pages 159-193, August.
    6. Slavo Radosevic, 1999. "International Technology Transfer and Catch-Up in Economic Development," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 1386.
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    More about this item


    middle income trap; middle innovation trap; technological capability; implementation capability; concept design capability;

    JEL classification:

    • O21 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy - - - Planning Models; Planning Policy
    • O32 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Management of Technological Innovation and R&D


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