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

Alessandro Nuvolari*, Valentina Tartari, Matteo Tranchero

*Corresponding author for this work

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The distinction between macro- and microinventions is at the core of recent debates on the Industrial Revolution. Yet, the empirical testing of this notion has remained elusive. We address this issue by introducing a new quality indicator for all patents granted in England in the period 1700–1850. The indicator provides the opportunity for a large-scale empirical appraisal of macro- and microinventions. Our findings indicate that macroinventions did not exhibit any specific time-clustering, while microinventions were characterized by clustering behavior. In addition, we also find that macroinventions displayed a labor-saving bias and were mostly introduced by professional engineers. These results suggest that Allen’s and Mokyr’s views of macroinventions, rather than conflicting, should be regarded as complementary.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101419
JournalExplorations in Economic History
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Published online: 23 June 2021.


  • Industrial revolution
  • Patents
  • Macroinventions
  • Microinventions

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