We analyse the autocatalytic structure of technological networks and evaluate its significance for the dynamics of innovation patenting. To this aim, we define a directed network of technological fields based on the International Patents Classification, in which a source node is connected to a receiver node via a link if patenting activity in the source field anticipates patents in the receiver field in the same region more frequently than we would expect at random. We show that the evolution of the technology network is compatible with the presence of a growing autocatalytic structure, i.e. a portion of the network in which technological fields mutually benefit from being connected to one another. We further show that technological fields in the core of the autocatalytic set display greater fitness, i.e. they tend to appear in a greater number of patents, thus suggesting the presence of positive spillovers as well as positive reinforcement. Finally, we observe that core shifts take place whereby different groups of technology fields alternate within the autocatalytic structure; this points to the importance of recombinant innovation taking place between close as well as distant fields of the hierarchical classification of technological fields.

Original languageEnglish
Article number172445
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number6
Early online date27 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2018


  • Autocatalytic set
  • Complex systems
  • Evolution of technology
  • Evolving networks
  • Patent data
  • Recombinant innovation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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