How innovative—and useful—is any given new invention? This question presupposes two others—first; how would you define “innovative”? And second; how would you then quantify that? And if you answered those first two questions and you could quantify novelty in inventions, what might you find?
Despite what you might read in the media about the current rate of “innovation,” the rate of novelty has actually been pretty steady since 1836.
Researchers from the Santa Fe Institute, Oxford Universiand the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology recently looked at U.S. Patent Office filings going all the way back to 1836 to see if they could answer these questions. They report what they found in their article, “Technological novelty profile and invention’s future impact,” recently published in EPJ Data Science.
What Daniel Kim, Daniel Burkhardt Cerigo, Hawoong Jeong, and Hyejin Youn did was to look at the U.S. Patent Office’s classification codes, and then to see which codes usually went together, and then looked for cases where inventions had pairs of codes that fit the norm; those outside that norm, and then also inventions that included both novel and conventional combinations. Following that, they wanted to look at what the economic impact of those inventions with these code pairs was.
Novelty itself cannot guarantee its success. Some weird ideas can be considered novel and unconventional, and not every novel idea is great one.
The first thing they found was, despite what you might read in the media about the current rate of “innovation,” that the rate of novelty (as defined above by technology code pairings) has actually been pretty steady since 1836. Then they found that neither very common combinations nor very novel combinations had high impacts. However, inventions that included novel codes and conventional code combinations did tend to have a greater impact (as measured by citations) than inventions with conventional or novel code pairings.
HyeJin Youn put it this way: “This result gives an interesting lesson to learn (and we knew this already from our experience). Novelty itself cannot guarantee its success. Some weird ideas can be considered novel and unconventional, and not every novel idea is great one. Additionally, not every great idea will receive well in society: people may not be able to understand, or implementation of a great idea may require yet unavailable infrastructure. Existence of conventional parts may be able to cover those conditions for a technological invention to be successful. On the other end, if a technological invention is made up of conventional parts, then the novelty is too marginal that the impact will not be big. So, both parts are required.”
You can read the entire article here.