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Firms in New Technologies: The Case of Superconductivity

: Grupp, H.; Münt, G.; Tögel, A.


Technological forecasting and social change 59 (1998), Nr.2, S.153-166
ISSN: 0040-1625
Fraunhofer ISI ()
Supraleiter; Forschungs- und Technologiepolitik; Deutschland; Japan; Unternehmensgründung; Patent; Betriebsgröße; Vereinigte Staaten

This article deals with three main questions. First, what types of firms are engaged in the development and exploitation of a young and perhaps future key technology? Second on which subfields of that particular technology do certain types of firmes concentrate? Third, are there any differences in industry structure and firm activity with respect to national technology policies? These aspects are discussed in terms of a case study on superconductivity. The article is empirical in character. The main pillar of the analysis rests on European patent applications, which we use for comparisons among the United States, Japan, and Germany at the corporate and national levels. To discover differences in national technology policies and their impact on corporate activity, we screened available information on sources, volumes and aims of national programs concerning superconductivity. The period covered ranges from 1981 to 1992 and thus includes the "paradigm" shift to high-temperature supercond uctivity around 1987. We find that large multinational firms account for the largest part of all external patent applications in this area. Another outcome of the analysis clearly points to rising shares of patenting by small firms after the technological breakthrough in 1987. But most of these small firms bave confined their activities to the national environment so far. One possible explanation may be found in differences in national technology programs supporting the start-up mew firms in niche markets. Most of these small new firms are located in the United States, where public programs have created favourable conditions and an increasing domestic demand for them. Thus, although the development of new technologies is increasingly international in scope, current industry patterns and firms' traditional specialization in related fields of activity still determine the building up of new science- and technology-based industries. At least in the United States, however, the impact of na tional technology policy may be felt widely in creating new and shaping existing structures in favour of more competition and faster diffusion.