Are complex patents more likely to be collaborated?

Are complex patents more likely to be collaborated and how does the geography of this collaboration look like? In this paper I explore 140 years of US patent data and find that complexity is positively associated with collaboration. Moreover, if a patent is complex, it is more likely to be collaborated with inventors locally. Geography matters!

Van der Wouden, F. (2019), “A history of Collaboration in US invention: changing Patterns of Co-invention, Complexity and Geography”, Industrial and Corporate Change


Research suggests that increasing collaboration in knowledge production is explained by rising complexity of knowledge. Yet, there is little long-run, systematic, empirical evidence on the relationship between complexity and collaboration. A new database is introduced that identifies all (co-)inventors on more than 3 million US patents between 1836 and 1975. Empirical analysis reveals (i) collaboration on US patents began to increase in the 1940s; (ii) there is a robust positive relationship between complexity and collaboration; and (iii) increasing complexity is associated with local rather than nonlocal collaboration.