Abstract: Innovation and British Regions in the Interwar Period: A Preliminary Discussion

Anna Spadavecchia and John Cantwell


It is often repeated that failings in industrial research and development (R&D) explain, at least in part, the long-term decline of British industry. However, other studies have not supported such an interpretation, pointing out that Britain witnessed significant and expanding R&D across its industries, impressive levels of corporate innovation, and the rapid expansion of "new" assembly and science-based industries. This paper contributes to this debate and uses a newly constructed dataset of patents granted in the United States to British inventions, for various benchmark years between 1918 and 1932. The analysis of 8,100 patent records shows that the regional distribution of innovation in the interwar years is similar to the one observed for the 1969-1995 period, thus suggesting that the technological comparative advantage is related to the regions themselves, rather than to specific industries. Moreover, the data show that British regions did display a Revealed Technological Advantage (RTA) in growing industries such as chemicals, electrical goods, and motor vehicles. Therefore, the hypothesis of a technological lock-in within declining industries receives limited support from this preliminary analysis.