NPR article, 23 April, 2012, "America's 12 million amateur innovators"
In his latest New York Times Magazine column, Adam Davidson reports that independent inventors are creating products faster than ever, but few are succeeding at patenting and selling their work. We asked Eric Von Hippel of MIT to explain why so many Americans are inventing new products at home when the odds of commercial success are stacked against them. His response is below.
(EvH): Nearly 12 million Americans create or modify products they use at home, according to our research. But the vast majority – more than 90 percent – will never get a patent on their innovations. So what motivates them?
The innovators we studied (their innovations may or may not meet the criteria for inventions) are user innovators – a very different breed than independent inventors...
...In one compilation of studies by him of 1193 commercially successful innovations across nine industries, 737 (60%) came from customers ("lead users")..
Most widely cited paper: "The Promise of Research on Open Source Software", Georg von Krogh; Eric von Hippel, Management Science, 52, 7. Jul 2006.
"The guru of customer-centered innovation blazes new ground in this masterpiece. He shows managers how to get the most out of a world where customers and communities pioneer new ideas and reconfigure what they buy. Other books tell you that co-creating innovations with customers is important. Von Hippel tells you how to make it happen." Philip Anderson, INSEAD Alumni Fund Professor of Entrepreneurship, and Director, International Centre for Entrepreneurship
"In a concise 200 pages, von Hippel traces the empirical studies on user innovation, determining that between 10 and 40 percent of users engage in developing or modifying products. These 'lead users' are ahead of the curve and often create improvements that other users will want to share." HBS Working Knowledge
"Future Works" (Wikipedia)
Professor Von Hippel’s plans for the future include getting concepts into government statistics to measure how many users innovate and what types of people do this type of work.
Then he would like to show that most innovation is still user innovation. He finds it interesting that in the UK, 8% (3-4 million people) of consumers modify the product that they use. He also noted that hospitals have the right to develop and use ideas as long as they do not sell them and he would like to get the institutional review board to approve development in hospital use. In this way, doctors would do innovation first, and then companies would harness this innovation in order to develop. He stressed the fact that the number of consumers modifying products and thereby innovating outweighs the number of people doing this in companies! We should be able to harness this natural innovation and use it to our benefit to market!