Sectoral patterns of technical change: Towards a taxonomy and a theory

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Citation: Keith Pavitt (1984) Sectoral patterns of technical change: Towards a taxonomy and a theory. Research Policy (Volume 13) (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1016/0048-7333(84)90018-0
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1016/0048-7333(84)90018-0
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1016/0048-7333(84)90018-0
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Sectoral patterns of technical change: Towards a taxonomy and a theory
Tagged: business (RSS), innovation (RSS), management (RSS)


Keith Pavitt's 1984 article uses data on 2,000 signficiant innovations in the United Kingdom to create a taxonomy of different types of innovation based on different types of industries or sectors.

Pavitt builds a dataset on major innovations by asking experts in industries to name innovation. He then researches the sources of these innovations and analyzes the pattern of innovation by sector based on the size of the firms innovating and whether the innovation was designed within that sector or from outside -- a category that falls down into process versus product innovations. Using these data, we creates 3 (4, in fact, since he breakdown one category into two subcategories) of industries

The taxonomy includes three major classes:

  • Supplier dominated: Firms from traditional manufacturing like agriculture and textiles which use innovations developed outside their sector
  • Production intensive which he breaks down into two groups:
    • Scale intensive: Large firms producing things like materials, consumer goods, or automobiles that both consume outside innovations in tools and create new process innovations to increase production.
    • Specialized suppliers: Smaller firms that build technologies to be sold to other firms like manufacturing machinery or instruments.
  • Science based: Typically large high-tech firms with intesive R&D like chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and electronics industries developing both new processes for themselves to use and new products to sell outside and using high degrees of patent protection.

Pavitt shows that appropriability regimes, policy treatment, and innovation patterns may indeed be very different in these types of industry and that supporting innovation in different industry may benefit from taking these categories into account.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

Pavitt's article continues to be one of the most highly cited articles in the literature on innovation. The major takeaway is, indeed, the taxonomy itself, which continues to frame the way that different studies break down innovation and provides scope conditions for many innovation studies.