The case of sleeping beauties in nanotechnology: a study of potential breakthrough inventions in emerging technologies

Elena M. Tur, Evangelos Bourelos, Maureen McKelvey (Corresponding author)

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Abstract

This study aims to determine whether innovation depends on long-term patterns of interactions in technology and science, using patents in nanotechnology. The previous literature has distinguished between a technology’s degree of novelty (science-base) and degree of technological impact, highlighting that links to the science-base will lead to more breakthrough inventions, due to distant recombinations. We extend the debate by distinguishing two types of science linkages, “direct and strong science-base” and “indirect and more diverse science-base.” To find long-term patterns, we developed an empirical strategy to study nanotechnology patents through the metaphor of “sleeping beauties”, e.g., delayed recognition and high impact. We show that sleeping beauties occur more frequently in nanotechnology than in the general population of patents, so nanotechnology is an emerging technology that may delay breakthrough inventions. As expected, both types of science linkages create a higher impact. Contrary to expectations, however, neither “direct and strong science-base” (proxied by university ownership) nor “indirect and more diverse science-base” (proxied by the non-patent literature) are significant. Although this emerging technology has many science linkages, these do not cause a delayed impact. Control variables of IPC application class and company ownership do matter. We conceptualize that these are typical characteristics when firms combine several technologies for industrial innovation. Among other contributions, we propose that the non-patent literature should not be considered a proxy for science linkages in general, but instead this reflects a search amongst various types of codified as well as informal technological and scientific knowledge. We suggest that the long-term patterns of delayed recognition and high impact in science-based technologies may require the firms to recombine multiple technologies, specializations, and industrial applications in order to do industrial invention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)683-708
Number of pages26
JournalAnnals of Regional Science
Volume69
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Open access funding provided by University of Gothenburg. Funding was provided by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, FSK 15-1080:1, Maureen McKelvey, Vetenskapsrådet, DNR 2017-03360, Maureen McKelvey, Broman Foundation. Elena M.Tur acknowledges funding from the Broman Foundation.

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