Date of Award

5-2014

Embargo Period

6-30-2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Engineering and Public Policy

Advisor(s)

Erica Fuchs

Abstract

Economic downturns have been shown to have disparate effects on the productivity of individuals and firms. However, not much is known about their influence, if any, on technology trajectories. This dissertation explores the relationship between the burst of the telecommunications bubble and the rate and direction of innovation of United States (U.S.) inventors in optoelectronics, a technology pivotal to the telecommunications industry.

Leveraging a hand-built dataset of 790 inventor CVs, we analyze optoelectronics’ inventor market shifts and associated innovation outcomes before, during, and after the burst of the telecommunications bubble. We find that the burst of the bubble disproportionately reduced inventor innovation in the rest of the field compared to the emerging general purpose technology (GPT) enabler. An increase in the emerging GPT-enabler post-burst is driven by Super Star inventors (top 1.5% both by cumulative patents and annual patenting pre-bubble) that switch markets applications post-burst out of diversified firms with telecommunications divisions and into firms focused exclusively on telecommunications. These Super Stars continue an increase in integration patenting that was driven during the bubble by Non Stars who left a period of unemployment, other markets and academia and went into firms focused on telecommunications and diversified firms with telecommunications divisions.

These superstars do not act in an institutional vacuum, however. There were several factors that influenced the growth of innovation in optoelectronics. This dissertation explores the ways vi that the location of research in different kinds of organizations, government funding and government regulation have combined to influence innovation worldwide in optoelectronics.

Analyzing patenting patterns in optoelectronics between 1955 and 2010, we identify the most influential firms, government agencies and individuals responsible for leading innovation in this field. We use archival data on firms’ decisions, firms’ market applications and collect oral histories on key individuals. We find evidence for co-operation and competition between academia and industry in the early years. We also find that the most prolific firms are not the most influential. In addition, government regulation influenced innovation in at least two unexpected ways: by limiting U.S. permanent residents from defense applications of the technology and by inspiring new ventures when mergers were delayed by Department of Justice investigations.

This dissertation contributes to research on innovation and mobility, and to academic discourse on the relationship between business cycles and technology trajectories. Previous research in the field of mobility and innovation that has used patent data to estimate mobility is limited by inventors only showing up in patent data if they patent after they move, thus biasing the observed sample. CV data disentangles the relationship between mobility and patenting. With respect to business cycles, our results suggest that both non-stars and super-stars may have important roles in pushing innovation frontiers during different parts of the business cycle. While super-stars advance the emerging GPT enabler during resource-constrained parts of the business cycle, they continue the efforts of non-stars during less constrained times. This suggests there may be a role for government in supporting emerging-GPT-enabler innovations during economic downturns.

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