THROUGHOUT THE 20TH century, particularly after
1970, the technological revolution in semiconductors,
digital communications, and consumer electronics
resulted in dramatic changes to our everyday lives.
We work, travel, consume, and communicate
differently thanks to technological innovation.
As a consequence, the role of information and
communications technologies (ICTs) in the global
economy is often the center of popular and academic
attention—to the point that the word “technology” in
common parlance has come to mean “information
technology.” But just how influential have ICTs
become in affecting subsequent inventions compared
to other technologies? This article examines the
special role of ICTs in influencing technological
development over the 20th century. The analysis is
intended to highlight the role of ICTs in societal
accumulation of technology, not only in terms of
production and consumption.
ICTs can be utilized as components
and enablers in many different production activities. For this reason, they
are thus seen as drivers of economic
growth. At the national-economy level,
ICTs have a strong influence on economic growth, 8, 14 and although there
was some early debate as to whether
ICT improves productivity,a it is now accepted among economists that at the
firm level, ICTs significantly contribute
to industrial productivity. 4, 7 Academic
economists generally agree that such
productivity benefits first appear in the
ICT-producing industries and gradually
spread to ICT-using industrial sectors. 19
Economic history suggests that innovation over long economic and technological cycles is brought about by general-purpose technologies, 6 or those that
can be adopted in diverse economic sectors and lead to efficiency and improvements. For instance, electrical engines
can power cars, factory machines, or
home appliances. Electricity is thus a
general-purpose technology that has
been adopted by the car manufacturing industry, along with other machine
industries, leading to improvements
and efficiencies to the car as a product.
However, the economywide contribution of such general-purpose technologies on subsequent invention has not
been thoroughly examined thus far, with
studies focusing instead on specific technologies (such as broadband). 2, 3 There
are also several studies that link adoption
of ICTs with subsequent invention activities, 1, 10 while others have considered the
a “You can see the computer age everywhere but
in the productivity statistics.” 17
Information and communication technology
patents are more influential on subsequent
inventions than are other types of patents.
BY PANTELIS KOUTROUMPIS, AIJA LEIPONEN,
AND LLEWELLYN D W THOMAS
˽ ICT patents are consistently more
central to invention, and much more
central since 1970, than patents
from other industrial sectors.
˽ ICT patents receive up to 0.406 more
citations and a considerably higher
PageRank than non-ICT patents.
˽ PageRank offers a quality-adjusted
indicator that helps measure the true
influence of inventions.