What mechanisms structure tie-formation among U.S. inventors: empirical evidence from U.S. patents between 1836-1975

Authors: Frank Van Der Wouden*, UCLA
Topics: Economic Geography, Quantitative Methods
Keywords: inventors, patents, innovation, collaboration, tie-formation, proximity, geography, social networks
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Regent, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


What mechanisms structure US inventor collaboration? This paper examines processes that give rise to collaborative ties between inventors in US metropolitan regions between 1836 and 1975. Across different fields of knowledge production scholars have observed increases in the rates of collaboration and average team-size. The rising complexity of knowledge production requires inputs that exceed the resources of individuals and thus promotes collaboration. However, long-run empirical evidence on the mechanisms that structure tie-formation among inventors is lacking. This paper contributes to this gap by examining to what extent geographical, social and technological distance influence tie-formation between inventors. The data comes from a unique inventor-patent database containing historical US patents between 1836 and 1975 (Van der Wouden, 2017). Exponential random graph models are used to statistically estimate the effects of the three forms of distance on tie-formation between inventors. The results are threefold. First, geographical distance has a significant negative effect on tie-formation among US inventors. Inventors are much more likely to collaborate with other inventors close in geographical space. However, the negative impact of geographical distance on collaboration becomes less over time. Second, inventors are more likely to collaborate with inventors which can be reached through their social network of collaborators. Thus, social proximity promotes tie-formation. Over time, this effect becomes more important. Finally, inventors are more likely to collaborate with inventors that have technological related patent portfolios. Over time, the effect of technological proximity on tie-formation becomes increasingly important, stressing the role of path-dependency.

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