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

Posted: 15 Dec 2008

See all articles by Tom Nicholas

Tom Nicholas

Harvard University - Entrepreneurial Management Unit

Date Written: January 2009


This article uses historical data on inventor and firm research and development (R&D) lab locations to examine the technological and geographic structure of corporate knowledge capital accumulation during a formative period in the organization of United States 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: R&D, invention, location, cities

JEL Classification: O31, O32, O14, R12

Suggested Citation

Nicholas, Tom, Spatial Diversity in Invention: Evidence from the Early R&D Labs (January 2009). Journal of Economic Geography, Vol. 9, Issue 1, pp. 1-31, 2009, Available at SSRN: or

Tom Nicholas (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Entrepreneurial Management Unit ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02163
United States

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