Why are Some Independent Inventors 'Heroes' and Others 'Hobbyists'? The Moderating Role of Technological Diversity and Specialization

Posted: 18 May 2009

See all articles by Christopher Lettl

Christopher Lettl

Aarhus University - Department of Marketing and Statistics

Katja Rost

University of Zurich - Institute for Organization and Administrative Science

Iwan von Wartburg

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: May 12, 2009

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.

Keywords: Independent inventor, Technological progress, Specialization, Diversity

Suggested Citation

Lettl, Christopher and Rost, Katja and von Wartburg, Iwan, Why are Some Independent Inventors 'Heroes' and Others 'Hobbyists'? The Moderating Role of Technological Diversity and Specialization (May 12, 2009). Research Policy, Vol. 38, No. 2, 2009, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1403329

Christopher Lettl (Contact Author)

Aarhus University - Department of Marketing and Statistics ( email )

Haslegårdsvej 10
DK-8210 Aarhus
Denmark

Katja Rost

University of Zurich - Institute for Organization and Administrative Science ( email )

Plattenstrasse 14
CH-8032 Zurich
Switzerland

Iwan Von Wartburg

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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