Categories, Search, and the Influence of Patented Innovation

Tyler Wry, Management Department, The Wharton School, and Adam Castor, Sung Kyun Kwan University

Abstract: In this paper, we argue that an innovation’s influence is shaped by the social structures that it is embedded within; specifically, the categories that are used to organize items in a given domain. Our approach builds novel theory at the intersection of research on categories, search, and attention, and argues that an innovation’s influence is related to: a) its position in a given category; b) that category’s internal properties, and; c) the category’s position within a broader classification system. We show that these factors help to explain an innovation’s overall influence, as well as the degree to which this influence is broad versus narrow. Analysis is based on a quasi-experiment that compares the citations received by different members of the same patent family (i.e., patents for the same innovation in different patent systems). This controls for an innovation’s features and allows us to isolate category effects. Results support our arguments, and show that an innovation’s influence is shaped by its categorization, regardless of its underlying features.

Wry Castor ThumbnailWatch the authors’ interview about their research here.

Read the full working paper here (PDF).