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Frontiers
Study Helps Define Innovators and R&D Performers

December 1996

A pilot study surveying 1,000 U.S. companies found that research and development (R&D) is performed by 84% of innovative companies, that is, companies that reported creating a new or technologically changed product or process between 1990 and 1992.

The survey, run jointly by NSF's Science Resources Studies Division and the U.S. Bureau of the Census, was part of an international effort to understand the process and characteristics of industrial innovation.

"Each of the participating countries selected firms from all the manufacturing industries for the study, but here in the United States we added firms from an important service-sector industry, the U.S. computer software industry," says Science Resources Analyst Larry Rausch.

Rausch, the author of the recent data brief describing the study, pointed out that this was not a typical SRS survey. "This was truly a pilot study and its primary purpose was to test the survey's questions and data collection procedures. But we also tried to design the study so that it might generate some national-level data estimates of innovation activities by U.S. firms."

In the end the survey accomplished both goals. New data describing U.S. industrial innovation was produced and the study identified survey questions that "worked well" and found others that proved difficult for U.S. firms to answer. Rausch noted that "each of the participating countries also encountered some problems in their survey."

Highlighting the survey's important findings, the data brief reports that one-third of U.S. manufacturing, software, or telecommunications companies were innovators, either introducing a new product or process during 1990-92 period, or having plans to introduce a new product in 1993-95. "This one-third figure is an estimated national average for the United States," Rausch writes.

The analysts then compared individual industries with this average to discover which industries have the most innovators. The leaders are:

  • Computer hardware companies (84% innovators)
  • Precision instruments and equipment (69%)
  • Pharmaceuticals (69%)
  • Chemicals (68%)

The survey found that innovative companies are more likely to export than are non-innovative firms.

Finally, Rausch and his colleagues used the survey to identify characteristics of an innovative firm, asking, for example, where U.S. innovators get information that leads to the development of new products. The three most popular answers were: internal sources, clients and customers, and suppliers.

For a copy of this data brief, call SRS at (703) 292-8774, or send an e-mail to srsweb@nsf.gov.


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