Collected Papers of Eric von Hippel

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Section 8: Models of the sources of innovation

Baldwin, Carliss Y., Christoph Hienerth, and Eric von Hippel. “How User Innovations Become Commercial Products: A Theoretical Investigation and Case Study.” Research Policy 35, no. 9 (2006): 1291–1313. (PDF)

Abstract: In this paper we model the pathways commonly traversed as user innovations are transformed into commercial products. First, one or more users recognize a new set of design possibilities and begin to innovate. They then join into communities, motivated by the increased efficiency of collective innovation. User-manufacturers then emerge, using high-variable/low-capital cost production methods. Finally, as user innovation slows, the market stabilizes enough for high-capital, low-variable cost manufacturing to enter. We test the model against the history of the rodeo kayak industry and find it supported. We discuss implications for “dominant design” theory and for innovation practice.

Baldwin, Carliss, and Eric von Hippel. “Modeling a Paradigm Shift: From Producer Innovation to User and Open Collaborative Innovation.” Organization Science 22, no. 6 (December 2011): 1399 –1417. doi:10.1287/orsc.1100.0618. (PDF)

Abstract: per we assess the economic viability of innovation by producers relative to two increasingly important alternative models: innovations by single user individuals or firms, and open collaborative innovation projects. We analyze the design costs and architectures and communication costs associated with each model. We conclude that innovation by individual users and also open collaborative innovation increasingly compete with - and may displace – producer innovation in many parts of the economy. We argue that a transition from producer innovation to open single user and open collaborative innovation is desirable in terms of social welfare, and so worthy of support by policymakers.

Raasch, Christina, and Eric A. von Hippel. “Modeling Interactions Between User and Producer Innovation: User-Contested and User-Complemented Markets.” SSRN eLibrary (June 7, 2012). (SSRN)

Abstract: There are two ways to diffuse innovations: for “free” via peer-to-peer channels, and at a price via market channels. Economic scholarship and policymaking have traditionally focused upon marketplace diffusion. In this paper, we also consider peer-to-peer diffusion, and so are able to consider the effects of rivalry and complementarity between these two important innovation diffusion channels.

When innovations that are close substitutes are being diffused via both channels, producers face a rival that has rarely been considered in competitive analyses: the option for users to self-supply independent of the market. We show that this additional option for adopters – a “user-contested market” - exerts price discipline on producers, and also increases social welfare. We also find that users can, under some conditions, exert greater competitive pressure than can rival producers.

It is also the case that innovations diffused peer-to-peer are often useful or essential complements to products diffused via the market - a “user-complemented market.” For example, a product may be sold on the market, while techniques for operating that product may largely or entirely be diffused peer-to-peer. We show that producers of essential components can extract value from complements created and diffused by users. Producers will often prefer their complementors to be users rather than other producers. User-complemented markets may even give producers higher profit than a vertically integrated monopoly. We also find that the producer’s preference for user complementors may be too strong from the perspective of social welfare.

We argue that producer-contested and producer-complemented markets are quite common as well as important for theorizing market outcomes. We consider implications for producer firms active in such markets. We also explain that benefits from peer-to-peer diffusion of user innovations are largely an externality from the point of view of innovating users. This market failure may require attention from policymakers.