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Why U.S. Tech Inventors Are So Highly Clustered


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San Francisco's Lombard St. viewed from above

The San Francisco region is the largest computer science cluster, accounting for 26.1 percent of all inventors in the field.

Research has previously documented the importance of clustering to high-tech startups and industries. Now, in "The Effect of High-Tech Clusters on the Productivity of Top Inventors," a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, economist Enrico Moretti of the University of California, Berkeley, examines the role of clustering on more than four million patents in high-tech fields that were filed and granted between 1971 and 2007.

The study looks at the effects of clustering on roughly 100,000 star inventors who account for the top 10 percent of patents across three key high-tech fields: semiconductors; computer science; and biology/chemistry/medicine. Moretti tracks the concentration of high-tech patenting across 179 city-regions. He arrives at three main findings:

  1. High-tech invention is extremely geographically concentrated. Seventy percent of inventors in computer science are in the top 10 regions; the Bay Area alone has more than one-quarter of them.
  2. Inventors are significantly more productive when they are working in larger geographic clusters. When inventors move from a smaller to a large cluster, they experience increases in both the number of patents they generate and the impact of those patents, based on their subsequent citations, the study found.
  3. The clustering of high-tech inventors brings real benefits to the American economy as a whole.

From CityLab
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