Measuring Soviet Performance in Industrial Innovation: The Implementation of New Inventions

Soviet economists often referred to the USSR's slow technological innovation as the issue of vnedreniye or introduction. They judged Soviet enterprises as being excessively slow in adapting new technologies.

A pioneering study of the Soviet economy's innovation problem by Joseph S. Berliner, The Innovation Decision in Soviet Industry, relied largely on anecdotal information from the Soviet press. It asserted that no Soviet micro-level data existed for quantitative studies (pp. 21-22). A group of U.K. economists published innovation studies of specific Soviet industrial sectors, but also without general quantitative data. These studies overlooked, however, a major source of detailed Soviet micro data on the use of new inventions by industry.

Soviet planners required enterprises and research institutes to submit a Form 4-NT, which included data on the use of new inventions. This information was at first openly published as part of the official Byulleten' and later from 1968 to 1983 as part of the specialized journal Vnedrennye Izobreteniya. From 1984 to 1996 the journal circulated to a more restricted readership as a For Official Use document. (For more details about the Soviet journal and the data, the changing censorship environment and the impact of state secrecy, see Data Discussion.)

Data from this specialized journal was used to conduct a quantitative study of Soviet technological innovation published by the U.S. Congress' Joint Economic Committee in 1979 (See JEC Paper). A follow-up study examined the data on invention use for trends over time and was presented at a 1991 NATO Science Policy Workshop at the University of Birmingham that was attended by Western and Soviet economists (See Birmingham paper).

The NATO study, while confirming many of the main results found in the anecdotal and sector studies, derives other conclusions beyond their reach. Among the study's major findings are:

  • Soviet enterprises were consistently slower than their Western counterparts in using inventions;

  • Soviet defense-industrial enterprises, which presumably benefited from greater resources, were no faster than their civilian counterparts;

  • no significant improvement in innovation speed (lead times) occurred from the late 1960s to the late 1970s;

  • academic facilities became the most important outside supplier of new inventions to the Soviet defense industrial sector in the 1970s; and

  • the Russian Republic (RSFSR) was the sole republic to record a positive balance in the exchange of inventions with other republics.

  • Home