Discontinuities and Distributed Innovation: The Case of Biotechnology in Food Processing

Finn Valentin, Rasmus Lund Jensen

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    This paper examines the organization of distributed innovation shaped by the major discontinuity in the life sciences and their associated technologies that has unfolded over the past three decades. While most studies have focused on its effects on pharmaceutical R&D, this paper studies food processing technologies, taking biotech exploitation of the ubiquitous micro-organism of Lactic Acid Bacteria as its example. Patents provide most of the data. Although highly distributed forms of innovation emerge from 1980 onwards, incumbents introduce virtually all innovations in this field, while the role of dedicated biotechnology firms (DBFs) remains negligible. Public research organizations contribute significantly to distributed R&D, and to a limited extent they also take on the role of economic actors. To explain the organizational characteristics of this distributed innovation this paper suggests a distinction between definition and solution of innovation problems. Extending Simon's analysis of complex problems, it is argued that definition and problem solving in innovation need not have the same levels of decomposability. By implication, the US model for biotech growth, emphasizing the market mechanisms of DBF formation, venture capital and scientist entrepreneurs, should not incautiously be pursued in all contexts and for all applications of biotechnology. Low decomposability of problem definition in innovations may preclude the emergence of these vehicles for market-driven growth, and in such cases distributed innovation must take other forms, including not least an active role of public science.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalIndustry and Innovation
    Issue number3
    Pages (from-to)275-310
    Number of pages36
    Publication statusPublished - 2003

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