General Purpose Technology: The Blockchain Domain

  •  Elona Marku    
  •  Manuel Castriotta    
  •  Michela Loi    
  •  Maria Chiara Di Guardo    


Blockchain is an emerging evolutionary paradigm that is expected to revolutionize existing business models in many industries and impact the world economy and society. Its potential pervasiveness is increasingly drawing the interest of academics, practitioners, firms, financial institutions, and national governments, who define it as a general purpose technology (GPT). Although it may take considerable time to affirm a technology as general, in this phase of the evolution of the blockchain domain, to what extent can it be considered a GPT? By adopting a patent co-classifications analysis, this paper aims at disentangling the blockchain technology structure, evolution, and potential future trends. We analyzed blockchain international patents issued from 2008 to 2018. Results showed a proliferation of the inventive activity outputs and a significant increase in the diversification across different technology fields, capturing the blockchain’s GPT traits. Moreover, our patent measures detected technology dynamics related to ‘space for improvement’ and ‘pervasiveness’ that commonly characterize GPTs. Our study contributes to the technology innovation literature by uncovering the emergence and evolutionary path of a GPT, and our results provide an empirical basis on which managers can build technology-related decisions and systems to enable appropriate firms’ innovation strategies.

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