The history of invention is a history of knowledge spillovers. There is persistent evidence of knowledge flowing from one firm, industry, sector or region to another, either by accident or by design, enabling other inventions to be developed.1,6,9,13 For example, Thomas Edison's invention of the "electronic indicator" (US patent 307,031: 1884) spurred the development by John Fleming and Lee De Forest in early 20th century of early vacuum tubes which eventually enabled not just long-distance telecommunication but also early computers (for example, Guarnier10). Edison, in turn, learned from his contemporaries including Frederick Guthrie.11 It appears that little of this mutual learning and knowledge exchange was paid for and can thus be called a "spillover," that is, an unintended flow of valuable knowledge, an example of a positive externality.
Information technologies have been a major source of knowledge spillovers.a Information is a basic ingredient of invention, and technologies that facilitate the manipulation and communication of information should also facilitate invention. Indeed, Koutroumpis et al.17 found that information technology patents receive more citations than patents in other technology sectors. Similarly, Klevorick et al.16 found that advances in information technologies can generate broader technological development by enhancing technological opportunities in adjacent industries.
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