Technology as a Complex Adaptive System: Evidence from Patent Data

Posted: 5 Sep 2000

See all articles by Lee Fleming

Lee Fleming

Harvard University - Technology & Operations Management Unit

Olav Sorenson

Yale School of Management

Abstract

This paper develops a theory of invention by drawing on complex adaptive systems theory. We see invention as a process of recombinant search over technology landscapes. This framing suggests that inventors might face a "complexity catastrophe" when they attempt to combine highly interdependent technologies. Our empirical analysis of patent citation rates supports this expectation. Our results also suggest, however, that the process of invention differs in important ways from biological evolution. We discuss the implications of these findings for research on technological evolution, industrial change, and technology strategy.

JEL Classification: O31, O32, O34

Suggested Citation

Fleming, Lee and Sorenson, Olav, Technology as a Complex Adaptive System: Evidence from Patent Data. Research Policy. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=238492

Lee Fleming (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Technology & Operations Management Unit ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617 495 6613 (Phone)
617 496 5265 (Fax)

Olav Sorenson

Yale School of Management ( email )

135 Prospect Street
P.O. Box 208200
New Haven, CT 06520-8200
United States

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