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Presidential Address: Innovation in retrospect and prospect


  • An earlier version of this paper was the Presidential Address at the Canadian Economics Association annual conference held in May 2010. I would like to thank Ralph Winter for detailed and insightful comments and Joyce Lam for valuable research assistance. I also received helpful comments from many others, including Keith Head, Craig Riddell, Barbara Spencer, and Michael Wolfson. Financial support from SSHRC grants 864-2007-0212 and 410-2008-0331 is gratefully acknowledged. Email:


Abstract This paper asks whether innovation has slowed in recent decades. While there has been dramatic progress in information and communications technology, the recent record of innovation in the crucially important agriculture, energy, transportation, and health care sectors is cause for concern. The paper also considers whether the pace of innovation is sufficient to improve or even maintain living standards in the face of still rapidly growing population, global warming, and other challenges. I review the major market failures that lead to under-provision of innovation and question whether current innovation policy, particularly patent policy, is effective in promoting innovation.


Ce mémoire se demande si l’innovation a ralenti au cours des dernières décennies. Alors qu’il y a eu progrès dramatique dans les technologies de l’information et des communications, le dossier des innovations récentes dans des secteurs aussi importants que l’agriculture, l’énergie, le transport et la santé a de quoi nous donner du souci. Le texte se demande aussi quel rythme d’innovation pourrait suffire pour améliorer ou maintenir notre niveau de vie face à une population qui croît rapidement, aux changements climatiques, et aux autres défis. On passe en revue les principales faillites du marché qui ont pu engendrer une offre insuffisante d’innovation, et on se demande si la politique d’innovation, en particulier pour ce qui est de la politique des brevets, est efficace pour promouvoir l’innovation.