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.

I used micro-level data collected from Form 4-NT of the Soviet state's inventions program to conduct a quantitative study of Soviet technological innovation (See Birmingham paper). I presented the study's results at a 1991 NATO Science Policy Workshop at the University of Birmingham that was attended by Western and Soviet economists. The micro-level data were published in the Soviet journal Vnedrennye izobreteniya from 1968 to 1983. The journal stopped open publication in 1983.

My 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 benefitted 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.

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