Article | Journal of Economic Geography | January 2009

Spatial Diversity in Invention: Evidence from the Early R&D Labs

by Tom Nicholas


This article uses historical data on inventor and firm R&D lab locations to examine the technological and geographic structure of corporate knowledge capital accumulation during a formative period in the organization of US innovation. Despite the localization of inventive activity around the labs, one-quarter of inventors lived outside a 30 mile commuting radius of the nearest facility of the firm they assigned their patents to. A strong positive effect of distance from a lab on technological importance is identified, especially for inventors from large cities that were geographically separated from a firm's labs. A patent case-control method helps explain spatial sourcing by showing that the average quality of externally available inventions was high. Firms selected complementary, not substitute, inventions from non-lab urban locations, suggesting a link between the organization and the geography of innovation.

Keywords: Factories, Labs, and Plants; Geographic Location; Innovation and Invention; Patents; Knowledge Acquisition; Research and Development; United States;


Nicholas, Tom. "Spatial Diversity in Invention: Evidence from the Early R&D Labs." Journal of Economic Geography 9, no. 1 (January 2009).