From Technopoles to Regional Innovation Systems: The Evolution of Localised Technology Development Policy

By Cooke, Philip | Canadian Journal of Regional Science, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

From Technopoles to Regional Innovation Systems: The Evolution of Localised Technology Development Policy


Cooke, Philip, Canadian Journal of Regional Science


This review of spatial innovation literature explores the evolution of initiatives to promote innovation by firms in local and regional settings. First stimulated by the evident success of Silicon Valley, California in the 1970s and 1980s, many national and regional governments sought to encourage the formation of high technology industry complexes by earmarking budgets and special high-tech development zones, modelled, to some extent, on the pattern established by the science park at Stanford University, founded in 1951 (Castells and Hall 1994). It is well-known that Frederick Terman, later Provost and Vice-President at Stanford, was the driving force behind Stanford Industrial Park, as it was officially known, and that among his student entrepreneurs were the founders of Litton Industries, and later Hewlett and Packard, preceded as tenants on the park by Varian and succeeded by Fairchild Semiconductors. Fairchild was the matrix for Intel, National Semiconductors, American Micro Devices and some forty other US chip-manufacturers from 1957, when the "Shockley eight" began to find their feet.

What is less well-known, perhaps, is that much of this history arose from an initial institutional borrowing and learning process in which knowledge-transfer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was crucial. First, from working on a wartime military project at MIT, Terman realised that the electrical engineering programmes there and elsewhere on the east coast of the USA were far superior to those of Stanford, and he sought to emulate them. But second, he also realised that university-industry relations were much stronger, particularly at MIT, which was substantially dependent on industry funding for its research and educational programmes. Third, in order to build up Stanford's academic and industrial liaison strengths, technology transfer from the east coast was also a necessary condition for innovative industrial development. This was assisted considerably by the foundation by William Shockley of Shockley Semiconductors near Stanford; Shockley having left Bell Laboratories in New Jersey in 1954, to capitalise on his invention of the transistor.

Stressing the first rather than the second part of the story fitted in well with the dominant linear model of innovation then at the forefront of understanding of the relationship between scientific progress and the commercialisation of products and processes. It is also clear, with hindsight, that for the truly radical innovations of semiconductors, integrated circuits and microprocessors, technology-push was a significant impulse, at least in relation to civilian applications. Even so, the role of the Department of Defence and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as users of miniaturised computers and guidance systems has perhaps been highlighted less than their role as suppliers of large-scale funding for the development of microcircuitry. We still know relatively little about the nature and extent of interaction between users and technologists at the early stage of the development of these new technologies, though it has been argued that 67% of the functional source of innovation development for semiconductors was users and only 21% manufacturers (von Hippel 1988: 4).

To return to the efforts by policy-makers to model high tech innovation on developments at Stanford and Silicon Valley, it is clear that most approaches have involved the idea of co-locating research centres and innovation-intensive firms in science and technology parks. In some cases this has involved designating whole cities as Science Cities or Technopoles. Although benefits have accrued from such plans, there is also in the literature that reviews such developments a frequent sense of disappointment that more has not been achieved. In cases drawn from France and Japan, countries that have arguably proceeded furthest with the technopolis policy, a certain absence of synergies has been observed among co-located laboratories and firms. …

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From Technopoles to Regional Innovation Systems: The Evolution of Localised Technology Development Policy
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