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http://ssrn.com/abstract=930649
 
 

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Was Electricity a General Purpose Technology?


Petra Moser


Stanford University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Tom Nicholas


Harvard University - Entrepreneurial Management Unit


The American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, Vol.94, No. 2, pp. 388-394. May 2004

Abstract:     
This paper uses historical patent citation data to test whether electricity, as the canonical example of a General Purpose Technology (GPT), matches the current citations-based criteria of GPTs. We use a sample of 1,867 American patents assigned to publicly traded companies in the 1920s and 3,400 forward citations to these patents to check which of four industry categories - electricity, chemicals, mechanical and other - most closely matches the key elements of GPTs. Our results suggest that electricity patents were broader in scope than other categories of patents at their grant date, and that they were more "original" than their counterparts. However, we also show that electricity patents had lower generality scores, fewer citations per patent (a measure of technological importance), and shorter citation lags (i.e., faster rates of knowledge depreciation). We argue that technological change, even in the 1920's, was much broader than has previously been considered.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 16

Keywords: Innovation, Patents, General Purpose Technology, U.S. Economic History

JEL Classification: N00, O30, O31, O34

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Date posted: September 18, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Moser, Petra and Nicholas, Tom, Was Electricity a General Purpose Technology?. The American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, Vol.94, No. 2, pp. 388-394. May 2004. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=930649

Contact Information

Petra Moser (Contact Author)
Stanford University - Department of Economics ( email )
Landau Economics Building
579 Serra Mall
Stanford, CA 94305-6072
United States
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Tom Nicholas
Harvard University - Entrepreneurial Management Unit ( email )
Cambridge, MA 02163
United States
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