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Why are some independent inventors ‘heroes’ and others ‘hobbyists’?: the moderating role of technological diversity and specialization


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, 38(2):243-254.

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.

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.

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23 citations in Web of Science®
31 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Business Administration
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
Language:English
Date:March 2009
Deposited On:17 Mar 2009 10:00
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 13:05
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0048-7333
Publisher DOI:10.1016/j.respol.2008.12.004
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-15981

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