Shaun Hendy

Professor Shaun Hendy is Director of Te Punaha Matatini, the Centre of Research Excellence based at the University of Auckland. His PhD was in astrophysics and cosmology (he watches The Big Bang Theory for the equations), but these days he apply physics, mathematics and computer simulation to solve problems in materials science and nanotechnology. Recently he has also been applying a few ideas from complex systems theory to look at how innovation works in New Zealand and overseas. He'll use this blog to report some of the results, and to discuss other topics that are of importance to New Zealand science. Shaun is on Twitter @hendysh

Networks of inventors - A Measure of Science

Sep 28, 2009

Over the last six months I’ve been studying an OECD patent database with a research assistant, Catriona Sissons. The goal of our project is to study the economic geography of innovation in a quantitative manner. One of the things we have investigated is whether collaborative networks form between inventors through co-patenting. To find co-patents between inventors we use European Patent Office data as they do their best to assign a unique ID to each inventor. When we started we didn’t know whether we would find networks of inventors at all, but it turns out that there are many large communities connected to each other via co-patents. Actually, we have found that these networks are similar in some ways to the small-world networks that exist in social groupings, or between web pages, with hubs that form around highly inventive people. I'll talk about the detailed structure of the networks we’ve found in another post. The largest network we have found is in California, which connects approximately 24,000 inventors and stretches from San Francisco to San Diego. As far as we can tell, there doesn’t seem to be anything else like it in the world - the next largest networks are less than 10,000 inventors in size, and are dominated by large firms like Philips or Sun Microsystems. However, this large Californian network contains a diverse range of applicants (these are the owners of the patents – sometimes the inventors themselves, but usually the company the inventors work for), seemingly a mix of small health-care and pharmaceutical companies. There is definitely something in the water in California. The other network that has particularly fascinated me is considerably smaller. It consists of 1300 inventors in the Helsinki region in Finland whose patents are owned by Nokia (appropriately Nokia’s current slogan is “Connecting People”). The network is shown below – the red dots (“nodes”) are individual inventors and if two inventors have share a patent there is a line between them (“edge”). The network formed over the period 1993-2008. What I find remarkable is that this network appeared within only 15 years in a country with a population similar to our own. The largest network we can find in New Zealand has around 30 people. In the early 1990s, Finland's patent and publication statistics do not suggest that they were any stronger than New Zealand in ICT. Yet by the end of the decade they were vigorously patenting and writing papers in ICT, and had increased their electronics exports tenfold to more than NZ$20 billion per annum (see below). Of course, they were lucky that Nokia emerged with the right product at the right time, but to exploit this luck to become the dominant player in the world cell-phone market, they apparently drew on this very large pool of inventors. Where did they get that inventive talent from? I gave a talk on this in June at MoRST, and someone suggested that there may have been an influx of Russian scientists and engineers after the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, names in the database are distinctly Finnish. While in the 1980’s they were training less than 50 engineering PhDs a year (still more than New Zealand’s current yield), early in the 1990s this started to grow, and by the end of the decade the figure had tripled. It appears that the Finns trained Nokia’s inventors in their Universities. In a later post I'll look at this in more detail.

A measure of science - A Measure of Science

Sep 26, 2009

As a theoretical physicist and applied mathematician, I’m interested in using numbers to describe all sorts of phenomena. And as a researcher in the MacDiarmid Institute, I’m also interested in innovation. So for me, it’s natural to try to study innovation quantitatively. One of the goals of this blog will be to look at science innovation using tools developed to study complex systems, drawing on quantitative data sources and statistics. What is already out there? In a New Zealand context, MoRST publishes an RS&T scorecard and also commissions a national bibliometric report from time to time – there is one due out this year. The Ministry of Education also recently published a bibliometric analysis of the Universities in order to assess the impact of the performance based research fund. Similarly, the Marsden fund … Read More