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Abstract and Figures

Technological and design process complexities may pose challenges to engineering design and related outcomes through invention. Understanding the trends related to the complexity of inventions and invention processes is crucial for informing engineering design research and education for invention, but has not been formally developed in the design literature. Herein, we utilize a set of patent-based metrics, drawn from complex systems research and engineering design research, to detect various aspects of the complexity in invention processes. By an analysis of U.S. patents from 1975 to 2011, our results suggest that technology inventions have been increasingly (1) requiring larger teams and more distant collaboration, (2) integrating a growing base of prior technologies, and (3) delivering more systemic and integrative new technologies. These trends may positively reinforce each other so as to contribute to a continual growth of the complexity in invention processes. Individual productivity for invention is also in decline, as we measured from the patent data. These findings suggest the increasing importance of research, education and application of complex system analysis methods and tools to control and manage the complexity in invention processes.
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ORIGINAL PAPER
The growing complexity in invention process
Jianxi Luo
1
Kristin L. Wood
1
Received: 30 May 2014 / Revised: 9 August 2017 / Accepted: 12 August 2017 / Published online: 22 August 2017
Springer-Verlag London Ltd. 2017
Abstract Technological and design process complexities
may pose challenges to engineering design and related
outcomes through invention. Understanding the trends
related to the complexity of inventions and invention pro-
cesses is crucial for informing engineering design research
and education for invention, but has not been formally
developed in the design literature. Herein, we utilize a set
of patent-based metrics, drawn from complex systems
research and engineering design research, to detect various
aspects of the complexity in invention processes. By an
analysis of U.S. patents from 1975 to 2011, our results
suggest that technology inventions have been increasingly
(1) requiring larger teams and more distant collaboration,
(2) integrating a growing base of prior technologies, and
(3) delivering more systemic and integrative new tech-
nologies. These trends may positively reinforce each other
so as to contribute to a continual growth of the complexity
in invention processes. Individual productivity for inven-
tion is also in decline, as we measured from the patent data.
These findings suggest the increasing importance of
research, education and application of complex system
analysis methods and tools to control and manage the
complexity in invention processes.
Keywords Invention Design Innovation
Collaboration System Complexity
1 Introduction
The evolution of design processes may shape our ability to
invent next-generation technologies, systems and services.
How do the design and invention process in general change
over time? Is there any general pattern of change in both
technologies and invention processes? Answers to these
questions can guide the direction of future engineering
design research and education for more inventive out-
comes. However, such understanding is still rather limited.
Current engineering design research and education are not
informed to respond to the evolution of technologies and
invention processes.
Indeed, the engineering design literature and engineer-
ing thought leaders have suggested that contemporary
technologies have become increasingly linked and inte-
grated into larger and more complex systems (Simon 1996;
Vest 2009; de Weck et al. 2011; Summers and Shah 2010;
Allaire et al. 2012; Sinha et al. 2013). Thus, a single
individual or organization will be less likely to possess all
of the resources and expertise necessary for designing a
desired invention (Hagedoorn 2002;Luo2015a). More
than ever, scientists and engineers with different expertise
and from disparate geographical regions are benefitting
from collaboration (Wuchty et al. 2007; Jones et al. 2008).
The increasing interlinking of technologies also heightens
the need for invention at a system or system-of-systems
scale (Ackoff 1971), and the need to draw upon a broader
and more diverse knowledge base.
According to the recent report of the joint Committee on
Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP) of the
&Jianxi Luo
luo@sutd.edu.sg
Kristin L. Wood
kristinwood@sutd.edu.sg
1
Engineering Product Development Pillar, Singapore
University of Technology and Design, 8 Somapah Road,
Singapore 487372, Singapore
123
Res Eng Design (2017) 28:421–435
DOI 10.1007/s00163-017-0266-3
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
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