Are mobile inventors more productive?

Mobility matters! COVID19 limiting our mobility is very likely to negatively impact the productivity of knowledge workers. David Rigby and I look at historical USPTO patents to track matched samples of mobile and non-mobile inventors over time. We report three key findings:

  1. In times of crises, firm and geographical mobility drops (i.e. during Great Depression & WW2).

  2. This matters because inventors moving between firms produce ~2.59 more patents than similar non-mobile inventors, while inventors moving geographically produce ~1.99 more patents than similar non-movers.

  3. The mobility treatment effect is largest after 15 years, confirming adjustment costs related to mobility.

Frank van der Wouden & David L. Rigby (2020), "Inventor mobility and productivity: a long-run perspective", Industry and Innovation (forthcoming),

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to explore the influence of mobility on

inventor productivity. Unlike most previous literature in this field,

we separate the impact of firm mobility from geographical mobility.

Our paper is also novel because of the long period of investigation.

We report how the different forms of mobility, and their impacts,

have changed over the period 1836–1975 using US patent data.

Mobility is identified for serial inventors who change assignee and/

or location over time. Firm mobility and geographical mobility

increase throughout the period examined, with only temporary

reversals around the Great Depression and Second World War.

Comparisons across matched samples of mobile and immobile

inventors reveal that firm mobility and spatial mobility raise the

patent productivity of inventors, the former having the largest

impact. Inventor productivity increases for up to 15 years following

a mobility event, suggesting a process of adjustment after a move.

Download • 4.83MB