Top Innovation Thinkers Gather at Berkeley-Haas for ICC Conference

About 70 innovation scholars from around the world are gathering at Berkeley-Haas this week for the ICC conference, where they will ponder the forces that drive industrial and corporate change.

Prof. David Teece (pictured) is spearheading the ICC conference “Beyond Technological Innovation and Diffusion”—with his Italian colleagues, Giovanni Dosi and Franco Malerba.

ICC is an acronym for Industrial and Corporate Change, the journal which Teece co-founded in 1992 with the late Nathan Rosenberg, a longtime Stanford professor. The conference this year honors Rosenberg— “one of the world’s pioneering scholars on the economics of innovation and how it drives the prosperity of firms and nations,” says Teece, the Thomas W. Tusher Professor in Global Business.

Among the pioneers attending the three-day event are Nobel Prize laureates Oliver Williamson of Berkeley-Haas and Kenneth Arrow of Stanford. Conference topics range from why firms are funding less of their own research to how regions diversify over time to the role of patents in the financing of innovative firms.

It was 30 years ago that Rosenberg and many of the scholars meeting this week first gathered in Venice, Italy, to talk about innovation, an area rarely discussed in business. The fact that they took a multidisciplinary approach to the study of innovation was highly unusual at the time, says Teece, who also serves as faculty director of the Tusher Center for the Management of Intellectual Capital.

“This crew has been pushing innovation relentlessly for decades, long before the term became fashionable with the rest of the world,” he says.

ICC, which celebrates its 25th year as a journal next year, has proven key to helping innovation scholars to gain legitimacy in academia.

“The science of economics, as important as it is, really has had trouble grasping innovation,” says Teece. “The reason is that economists like systems to be in equilibrium and innovation throws everything into disequilibrium. Innovation is very messy.”

Since ICC launched, Teece says, experts have developed a much better understanding of the processes that drive innovation, how the spoils of innovation get divided between pioneers and their imitators, and the role that ecosystems, as opposed to industries, play in determining business opportunities.

What’s more, ICC has addressed aspects of innovation that cross into other disciplines, including public policy, social science, and physical science. Prominent contributors have included Richard Nelson of Columbia University, Sidney Winter of Wharton, and Constance Helfat of Tuck.

Because of ICC and its peer journal, Research Policy, “it’s easier today for someone with a serious interest in innovation to be taken seriously,” says Teece. “But it’s still not easy.”