What is innovative capacity?


Originally introduced by Prof. Suarez-Villa in 1990 (see Publications) the concept of innovative capacity measures the level of invention and the potential for innovation in any nation, geographical area or economic activity.


Invention here refers to ideas that are patented. When those ideas are used for some economic or social purpose they become innovations. Innovations are also often the source of new ideas. Innovations are the source of new technologies. Typically, as the level of invention increases, more innovations and new technologies can be expected. Measuring the level of invention therefore provides an important indicator of the capacity or potential for innovation and the introduction of new technologies.


Measuring innovative capacity over time can provide important insights on the dynamics of invention in any economic activity, nation or geographical area. Such insights may be used by policy-makers, industry analysts or academic researchers for understanding changes in invention, technology and the competitiveness of economic activities.


At the national level, innovative capacity can provide comparisons on how inventive activity has changed over time, and its relationship with the major drivers of invention, such as educational access, the regulation of intellectual property, or the enactment of laws. Crafting policies and regulations that help promote invention may be one of the benefits of using this concept.


For any economic activity or industry, innovative capacity can measure its level of invention at any time or between different locations. Providing comparisons with other activities or industries to determine actual or potential technological leadership is one of the many uses of this concept. Very often, for example, declining levels of innovative capacity for any industry or activity can serve as an early warning of future difficulties and decline.


For any geographical area, such as a state, province, metropolis, county or city, innovative capacity can provide important indications of how it fares as a source of inventions and new technology. Areas that become important sources of innovative capacity usually develop faster economically, attract highly skilled populations, and experience rising incomes and trade.


Patents are an important type of data used for analyses of innovative capacity. Patent data are possibly the most reliable statistics that can be found. Historical patent data are available for most nations. In the United States, for example, patent data can be found annually since 1790. The criteria used for evaluating patent applications and awards are well known and are very consistent over time. Also, any changes in the evaluation criteria can be documented and adjusted for. Many different types of economic and social data can also be related to analyses of innovative capacity. Occupational, demographic, educational, income, infrastructural and trade data may also be used in measurements of this concept (see Publications). For examples of how the concept of innovative capacity can be applied in practice see Real World Applications.



Did a concept of innovative capacity exist before 1990?


As a concept, framework or method, innovative capacity was originally introduced in 1990 by Prof. Suarez-Villa. He started to work on this concept in 1986, using invention patent data and developing a model that could provide insights on the evolution of patenting over the long term. The first article on the concept of innovative capacity was published in the refereed international journal Behavioral Science (see Publications). Among the article’s reviewers was Nobel Prize laureate Herbert Simon, who was a member of the editorial board of that journal.


The formulation of a concept, framework or method involves its explicit definition, supported by a theoretical construct or model, and demonstrated empirically with real-world data. All of these features were part of Prof. Suarez-Villa’s original publication of innovative capacity. No publication or paper by any other author formulated a concept of innovative capacity prior to 1990.


As a figure of speech, the term innovative capacity can be used to refer to many situations. Note, however, that this is different from its use as a concept, framework or method. As a figure of speech, for example, the term innovative capacity might be used to refer to an individual’s aptitude, to an educational quality, or to an entity’s condition, among others. Such uses of the term innovative capacity do not involve its application as a concept, framework or method, but merely denote a characteristic.


The difference between the use of a term to denote a concept, framework or method and its usage as a figure of speech is important. An example can be found in the term “multiplier.” This word has been in use as a figure of speech since the start of arithmetic. However, the concept of the multiplier in the field of economics refers to a framework or method used to understand a specific phenomenon. Thus, usage of the term multiplier as a figure of speech dates back to ancient times. As a concept, however, it refers to the definition and measurement of a specific economic phenomenon.


The same can be said for the term “gravity.” This word has been in use as a figure of speech since the earliest times, and can be used to refer to a situation or to a human condition. However, the concept of gravity in physics refers to a specific effect of planetary rotation. The term gravity as a figure of speech therefore dates back to the earliest times, but as a concept it refers to a specific phenomenon in physics.



Why is it that some bibliographic data bases include the term innovative capacity

in the abstracts of articles published prior to 1990?


The words innovative capacity have been misleadingly inserted in the abstracts of various pre-1990 publications listed in some bibliographic data bases. The data bases in question are commonly used in economics and management research. In every case, the pre-1990 publications listed have been found not to have formulated any concept, framework or method of innovative capacity.


The very few publications that included any mention of the term prior to 1990 used it only as a figure of speech, to refer to a characteristic. Thus, they did not use the term innovative capacity to refer to a concept, framework or method. In other cases, publications listed in the data bases actually did not use at all the term in their original abstracts, in their text or illustrations.


To the extent that bibliographic data bases convey the impression that a concept of innovative capacity existed prior to 1990, they are unreliable and misleading. Readers should therefore check thoroughly and compare the wording of abstracts provided in bibliographic data bases with that of the original abstracts (found in print or that accompanied the original publication) before coming to any conclusion about the origin of the concept of innovative capacity.


It is very unfortunate that bibliographic data bases may be misinforming researchers and readers in this manner. This situation might reflect an ethical problem, if the term was inserted with the intent to convey the false notion that a concept of innovative capacity existed prior to 1990.



Is innovative capacity generic?


As a concept, framework or method, innovative capacity is not generic in any social science discipline, or in related professional fields.


Indicators exist to determine when a concept becomes common knowledge, or generic, in any given field. General textbooks are an important indicator. Dictionaries dedicated to a field or discipline are also important in this regard. These are the most common benchmarks used to determine when an idea has become commonly known, or is generic, such that everyone in a given discipline immediately understands its purpose.


Innovative capacity cannot be found in any of the indicators used to determine when a concept becomes common knowledge, or generic, in economics or in any other social science discipline.


Ethical norms require that the source of any idea or concept that is not common knowledge receive bibliographic credit, whenever it is used. Such norms exist to promote fairness when using other authors’ work.



Why is copyright protection invoked in this website?


Copyright protection is invoked for the contents of this website in order to protect them from appropriation or prejudicial misuse by unscrupulous individuals and organizations. Today, most any concept that can generate consulting profits in business or economics can potentially become a target for appropriation.


This website was installed in September 2002 and has been continually updated since then. Its purpose is to provide information to researchers, to students, and to the public at large. Because some authors have used and profited from the concept of innovative capacity without providing attribution or credit, this website also seeks to correct any misperceptions about the concept’s origins and development.


Some authors who have profited from the concept of innovative capacity may claim that it was introduced as a new concept in 1999. However, by the start of 1999 Prof. Suarez-Villa had already published six refereed articles on the concept of innovative capacity, and had presented twelve papers that used, or referred to, this concept at conferences in four continents.




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