The Nature and Importance of Innovation
This chapter begins by defining what economists mean by innovation. Economists have focused on two main types: product and process. A product innovation is the act of bringing something new to the market place that improves the range and quality of products on offer: for example, the Apple iPod is an innovation compared with the Sony Walkman, which was an earlier portable device for playing music. A process innova- tion is a new way of making or delivering goods or services: for example, going to visit the doctor and recording that you have arrived for your appointment by touching a screen instead of talking to a receptionist. We shall highlight the basis of such innovations in the discovery and development of many types of new knowledge. We begin by outlining the whole supply chain of innovation: from its basis in such activities as scientific invention, mathematical theorems, computing algorithms, and information gathering activity through to the widespread diffusion of this new knowledge embodied in new products and processes within the economy.
Section 1.3 looks at the microeconomic effects of innovation. Using the standard microeconomic concepts of costs, demand, and consumer surplus, the outcome of both process and product innovation are analyzed. Even at this stage we encounter differences depending on the availability of intellectual property rights (IPRs) and the type of market structure of the relevant industry. Section 1.4 looks at the interactive nature of innovation, whereby sectors of the economy can act as both producers and users of innovations. Section 1.5 considers the important question of whether or not the private market can deliver the optimal amount of innovation. If there is market failure, there will be less innovation than the amount society would ideally want. Here we stress two aspects of the process of innovation that suggest possibilities for market failure. The first is that new knowledge—which is created during the innovation process—is what economists term a public good and such