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Who Invents?: Evidence from the Japan-U.S. inventor survey


  • John P. WALSH
  • NAGAOKA Sadao


Human resources are increasingly seen as a key to innovation competitiveness, and there is a need for detailed, systematic data on the demographics of inventors, their motivations, and their careers. To gain systematic data on who invents, we collected detailed information on a sample of inventors in the U.S. and Japan (the RIETI-Georgia Tech inventor survey). The data come from a unique set of matched surveys of U.S. and Japanese inventors of triadic patents, i.e., patents from patent families with granted patents in the U.S. and applications filed in Japan and in the EPO, with data from over 1900 responses from the U.S. and over 3600 responses from Japan. Based on these survey data, we compare the profiles, motivations, mobility and performance of inventors in the U.S. and Japan. Overall, we find some important similarities between inventors in the U.S. and Japan. The distribution across functional affiliations within the firm, by gender, by educational fields and their motivations, are all quite similar. In particular, in both countries we find inventors emphasizing task motivations over pecuniary motivations. Firm-centered motivation (e.g., generating value for my firm) is also an important reason for inventing and this reason is relatively more important in the U.S. than Japan. Their distribution across types of organizations is quite similar. The percent of university inventors is nearly the same in the two countries, and the distribution of these inventors across technology classes is also quite similar. However, the percent from very small firms is significantly higher in the U.S. There are a few important differences. American inventors are much more likely to have a Ph.D. American inventors are older (even controlling for differences in the share of the inventors with Ph.D.s). The modal Japanese inventor has his first invention in his 20s, while for the U.S., the mode is the early 30s, and we also find many more American inventors over age 55 at the time of their triadic patent invention. In both countries, older inventors tend to produce higher value patents. American inventors are also much more mobile (although Japanese inventors with Ph.D.s also have high rates of mobility, mainly in the form of secondments). In the U.S., mobility tends to decline with age, while in Japan, mobility is higher for older inventors (likely due to the differences in retirement ages in the two countries). In both countries, mobility is associated with greater access to outside information. Finally, we find that foreign-born inventors are very important in the U.S. (we did not collect data on country of origin for Japan). Overall, these results suggest that inventor characteristics may be important for firm performance, and that institutional differences may affect the profile of inventors in each country, although the inventors of the two countries are very similar in many respects. Future work will examine how these cross-national differences in inventor profiles affect innovation in each country.

Suggested Citation

  • John P. WALSH & NAGAOKA Sadao, 2009. "Who Invents?: Evidence from the Japan-U.S. inventor survey," Discussion papers 09034, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
  • Handle: RePEc:eti:dpaper:09034

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. NAGAOKA Sadao & John P. WALSH, 2009. "Commercialization and Other Uses of Patents in Japan and the U.S.: Major findings from the RIETI-Georgia Tech inventor survey," Discussion papers 09011, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    2. Hall, B. & Jaffe, A. & Trajtenberg, M., 2001. "The NBER Patent Citations Data File: Lessons, Insights and Methodological Tools," Papers 2001-29, Tel Aviv.
    3. OWAN Hideo & NAGAOKA Sadao, 2011. "Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations of Inventors," Discussion papers 11022, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    4. Henry Sauermann & Wesley M. Cohen, 2008. "What Makes Them Tick? Employee Motives and Firm Innovation," NBER Working Papers 14443, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Giuri, Paola & Mariani, Myriam & Brusoni, Stefano & Crespi, Gustavo & Francoz, Dominique & Gambardella, Alfonso & Garcia-Fontes, Walter & Geuna, Aldo & Gonzales, Raul & Harhoff, Dietmar & Hoisl, Karin, 2007. "Inventors and invention processes in Europe: Results from the PatVal-EU survey," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(8), pages 1107-1127, October.
    6. Sadao Nagaoka, 2005. "Determinants of the Introduction of Stock Options by Japanese Firms: Analysis from the Incentive and Selection Perspectives," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 78(6), pages 2289-2316, November.
    7. Hélène Dernis & Mosahid Khan, 2004. "Triadic Patent Families Methodology," OECD Science, Technology and Industry Working Papers 2004/2, OECD Publishing.
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    Cited by:

    1. Marcus Berliant & Masahisa Fujita, 2011. "The Dynamics of Knowledge Diversity and Economic Growth," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 856-884, April.
    2. ONISHI Koichiro & NAGAOKA Sadao, 2012. "Life-cycle Productivity of Industrial Inventors: Education and other determinants," Discussion papers 12059, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    3. Frosch, Katharina & Harhoff, Dietmar & Hoisl, Karin & Steinle, Christian & Zwick, Thomas, 2015. "Individual determinants of inventor productivity: Report and preliminary results with evidence from linked human capital and patent data," ZEW Discussion Papers 15-001, ZEW - Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research.
    4. Jung, Taehyun & Ejermo, Olof, 2014. "Demographic patterns and trends in patenting: Gender, age, and education of inventors," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 110-124.

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