Studies in Materials Innovation

Part of the Robert W. Gore Materials Innovation Project, this white paper series aims to illuminate the diverse contributions of materials innovation within the broader process of technological development in the contemporary age.

Institutions as Stepping-Stones: Rick Smalley and the Commercialization of Nanotubes

by Cyrus C. M. Mody | ViewDownloadPurchase

The creation of the biotechnology industry in the 1970s brought a new feature to materials-based innovation: small, high-tech firms started by (or linked closely to) prominent academic scientists. Though there is a very long history of professors starting or consulting with science-based firms, the patenting of recombinant-DNA research by Herbert Boyer of University of California, San Francisco, and Stanley Cohen of Stanford University in 1980 marked a new, self-conscious era of professorial start-ups. With Boyer and Cohen’s patent the venture-capital industry expanded out of its most successful niche—funding spin-off firms from established semiconductor companies—and into financing professorial start-ups. Academic researchers, many initially ambivalent about commercial ventures, eagerly founded companies once they saw the fortune Boyer reaped in the initial public offering of Genentech. Legislation (most notably the Bayh-Dole Act) quickly passed to facilitate further academic start-ups. And regional economic-development offices in the United States and the world began cultivating clusters of professorial start-ups in the hopes of eventually rivaling Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Integrated Circuit for Bioinformatics: The DNA Chip and Materials Innovation at Affymetrix

by Doogab Yi | ViewDownloadPurchase

The second generation of biotech firms, established in the 1990s, has expanded its business scope into chemical, materials, and research infrastructure for biomedical research and pharmaceutical development. A few start-up companies, such as Affymetrix, Celera, and Human Genome Sciences, exhibited this broader shift in their business toward materials and research after the first biotech boom of the 1980s subsided. This essay analyzes one such case in materials innovation in the biotech industry—Affymetrix’s DNA chip, which ignited the confluence of information technology and biotechnology. This case study illuminates the evolution of business strategies of the second generation of biotech firms, analyzes the reconfiguration of biotech firms’ strategic alliances with academic research communities and pharmaceutical companies in the 1990s, and examines the hybridization of discrete technological components in the development of bioinformatics.

Co-Innovation of Materials, Standards, and Markets: BASF’S Development of Ecoflex

by Arthur Daemmrich | ViewDownloadPurchase

Product innovation in the chemicals sector today requires not just scientific and technological advances but also compliance with standards and regulations, along with marketing to sophisticated intermediate firms and end users.

Yet the very novelty of new materials often means that product standards, health and safety regulations, and consumer markets are underdeveloped or absent. For new materials that offer environmental advantages over existing products, a lack of widely accepted product standards can doom market introductions.

This report presents a case study of Ecoflex, a biodegradable polymer manufactured by the German chemical company BASF.

Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists

by David C. Brock | ViewDownloadPurchase

The rise of the Digital Age has been predicated on Moore’s law—optimal economic advantage comes from an exponential increase in the performance of electronic components, accompanied by an exponential decrease in price. It is about semiconductor mfg. technol. In the early 1980s researchers in the semiconductor industry realized that the then dominant version of a central material on which semiconductor mfg. technol. was built—photoresist—would soon be insufficient. Therefore, a new form of photoresist would be required. This case study examines the innovation of the first of these “chemically amplified photoresists” by IBM in the 1980s. The case supports four findings with implications for our understanding of the nature of innovation. 

Innovation and Regulation on the Open Seas: The Development of Sea-Nine Marine Antifouling Paint

by Jody A. Roberts | ViewDownloadPurchase

The development of Sea-Nine marine anti-fouling paint linked agricultural biocides, coatings research, and fed. and internat. regulation. The intro. of the marine coating in the 1990s was heralded as a “green” alternative to the toxic coatings used up to that point. Arriving at the final product, however, required the team at Rohm and Haas to negotiate a tricky technical and legal terrain. Work through the regulatory systems helped open new market possibilities for the co. and place Sea-Nine at the forefront of a previously unexplored marketing niche. This case study offers a number of important lessons for current molecular research, emphasizing the role of collaboration for expertise and the ways in which regulation can spur the innovation process.

Sun & Earth and the “Green Economy”: A Case Study in Small-Business Innovation

by Kristoffer Whitney | ViewDownloadPurchase

Since 1980 the household-cleaning-products industry has proliferated with small, niche firms catering to consumers interested in plant-based surfactants, or oleochemicals, rather than petroleum-based cleaners. While oleochemicals are still a relatively small part of the market, a few successful firms have not only inspired other similar small bus. but have also led large producers to innovate their own lines of “green” household products. This case study focuses on one of the earliest co. to produce “natural” household-cleaning products, Sun & Earth, and places the co. in the context of the larger phenomenon of the so-called green economy. The case of Sun and Earth illuminates what it means to innovate as a small business in a niche market.

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