Why are some independent inventors 'heroes' and others 'hobbyists'? The moderating role of technological diversity and specialization

Christopher Lettl, Katja Rost, Iwan Von Wartburg

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


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 et al. (2004) 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243 - 254
JournalResearch Policy (RP)
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2009

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