Recent Research: High density areas more likely to produce unconventional innovation

February 13, 2020
By: Sarah Holbert

Uncommon innovation is more likely to be found in high density areas, according to recent research. An article by Enrico Berkes of The Ohio State University and Ruben Gaetani of the University of Toronto, found that high-density areas boast more unusual combinations of prior knowledge, often across technologically distant fields. Their results indicate that geography affects innovation, as high-density areas produce more diverse, original research (i.e. unconventionality) while low-density areas are more likely to produce research within specific clusters.

Using county-level data of patents granted between 2002 and 2014 and those filed between January 2000 and December 2010, the authors compared density and patent intensity per capita. While dense areas do not necessarily produce more patents per capita, density does play an important role in the innovation sphere as patents produced in dense areas have a higher degree of originality. Furthermore, patents of unconventional research are more cited than patents from conventional research.

The authors believe the relatively low rate of conventionality in dense areas points to the importance of encouraging informal networks. Such networks allow for collaboration among different technological classes unavailable through formal networks (such as universities) and in turn hybridized innovation due to the unique combination of prior knowledge and new insights. 

Another intriguing finding from the paper points to an area for further research. The authors control for patents produced by large publicly traded firms and find that these firms typically are not producing unconventional innovation. While the authors suggest that further research is needed, they propose that, in order to support unconventional innovation, attention should be directed to encouraging diversity in the workforce and facilitating unprecedented interactions to produce new and varied innovation. 

recent research, innovation