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How cumulative is technological knowledge?

P. G. J. Persoon, R. N. A. Bekkers and F. Alkemade

Papers from arXiv.org

Abstract: Technological cumulativeness is considered one of the main mechanisms for technological progress, yet its exact meaning and dynamics often remain unclear. To develop a better understanding of this mechanism we approach a technology as a body of knowledge consisting of interlinked inventions. Technological cumulativeness can then be understood as the extent to which inventions build on other inventions within that same body of knowledge. The cumulativeness of a technology is therefore characterized by the structure of its knowledge base, which is different from, but closely related to, the size of its knowledge base. We analytically derive equations describing the relation between the cumulativeness and the size of the knowledge base. In addition, we empirically test our ideas for a number of selected technologies, using patent data. Our results suggest that cumulativeness increases proportionally with the size of the knowledge base, at a rate which varies considerably across technologies. At the same time we find that across technologies, this rate is inversely related to the rate of invention over time. This suggests that the cumulativeness increases relatively slow in rapidly growing technologies. In sum, the presented approach allows for an in-depth, systematic analysis of cumulativeness variations across technologies and the knowledge dynamics underlying technology development.

Date: 2020-11, Revised 2021-05
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-ino, nep-knm and nep-tid
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