Patterns of Innovation during the Industrial Revolution: A Reappraisal Using Composite Indicators of Patent Quality

Alessandro Nuvolari, Valentina Tartari, Matteo Tranchero

Research output: Contribution to journalConference abstract in journalResearchpeer-review


In this paper, we construct a new bibliographic indicator of patent quality for English patents granted in the period 1700–1850. The indicator is based on the relative visibility of each patent both in the contemporary legal and engineering literature and in modern authoritative works on the history of science and technology. The indicator permits to operationalize empirically the distinction between micro and macro-inventions which has featured prominently in the recent debates on the origins of the Industrial Revolution (Allen 2009; Mokyr 2009). Our findings indicate that macro-inventions did not exhibit any specific time clustering, while micro-inventions are correlated to the economic cycle. In addition, we also find that macro-inventions were not the result of the activities of “outsiders” and they were characterized by a labor-saving bias. These findings are further explored in the context of mechanical engineering, where we find confirmation that professional and experienced machine-makers were responsible for the most important inventions, while machine users usually engaged in minor improvements.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Economic History
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)597-598
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020
EventEconomic History Association 79th Annual Meeting. EHA 2019 - Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, United States
Duration: 13 Sept 201915 Sept 2019
Conference number: 79


ConferenceEconomic History Association 79th Annual Meeting. EHA 2019
LocationWestin Peachtree Plaza
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address

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