The Role of Epidemiology in the Study of Innovation Diffusion
Elias G. Carayannis,
Nikolaos G. Evangelatos.
The role of knowledge in the process of innovation has been advocated and the relationship of the latter with
learning has been extensively studied. Diffusion of innovation is an important phenomenon strongly related to knowledge
diffusion. The latter is not a physical phenomenon and its measurement relies on relevant indicators. Patent citation has
been used to study whether firms have been “contaminated” with knowledge included in a patent by revealing if a certain
firm has used this knowledge to develop its own patents or new knowledge i.e. if the firm has cited this knowledge. On
the other hand, contamination has been extensively studied by epidemiology in an attempt to understand and manage the
effects of extended urbanization. In this paper we investigate whether theoretical models from the field of epidemiology
can be used to study the diffusion of innovation in an economic cluster. In this context we introduce the notion of
“quantum of knowledge” to describe the knowledge included in a cited patent. We use the former as the “contagious
agent” and, after describing the relevant analogies between biomedical and economic empirical actors, we apply ordinary
differential equations from epidemiology to study its diffusion and, therefore, the diffusion of the included knowledge
among firms in an economic cluster. Despite relevant limitations and the lack of empirical testing, we argue that our
approach has significant research potential as well as important managerial implications.
Keywords: Epidemiology, innovation, innovation diffusion.
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