Breakthrough innovations in aircraft and the intellectual property system, 1900-1975
Economic Research Working Paper No. 25
Author(s): David C. Mowery | Publication year: 2015
Modern commercial aircraft are complex products that incorporate innovations in technologies ranging from advanced materials to software and electronics. Although commercial aircraft assuredly qualify as a transformative innovation, in fact today’s commercial aircraft are the result of a process of incremental innovation and improvement that dates back more than a century. A great many of these improvements and incremental innovations originated from government-supported R&D programs sponsored by the military services or government research laboratories. The adoption of commercial-aircraft innovations within many industrial economies, including the United States, also has been influenced by government regulation of air transportation. This paper provides a historical characterization of the innovation and record of technical progress in US commercial aircraft during the 1900-1975 period. It identifies the sources of support for innovation and technological adoption, and examines the origins and impacts of “breakthrough innovations” on the overall evolution of the global commercial aircraft industry. The paper also assesses the role of patents in these important innovations.