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Technological Innovation in Legacy Sectors


William B. Bonvillian and Charles Weiss

Oxford University Press 2015


See book site - click here: Oxford Univ. Press or see:


  • Creates a new, unified, systematic approach to innovation policy, focused on overcoming two deep problems in the U.S. innovation system: expanding economic growth and raising the rate of creation of well-paying jobs

  • Introduces, defines and develops the new concept of disruption-resistant "Legacy sectors" and sets forth a conceptual framework with which to address this neglected problem

  • Adds to previous models of the dynamics of innovation, identifies three new drivers, and sets the stage for recommendations on how to introduce innovation into Legacy sectors













The American economy faces two deep problems: expanding innovation and raising the rate of quality job creation. Both have roots in a neglected problem: the resistance of Legacy economic sectors to innovation. While the U.S. has focused its polices on breakthrough innovations to create new economic frontiers like information technology and biotechnology, most of its economy is locked into Legacy sectors defended by technological/economic/political/ social paradigms that block competition from disruptive innovations that could challenge their models. Americans like to build technology "covered wagons" and take them "out west" to open new innovation frontiers; we don't head our wagons "back east" to bring innovation to our Legacy sectors. By failing to do so, the economy misses a major opportunity for innovation, which is the bedrock of U.S. competitiveness and its standard of living. 

Technological Innovation in Legacy Sectors uses a new, unifying conceptual framework to identify the shared features underlying structural obstacles to innovation in major Legacy sectors: energy, air and auto transport, the electric power grid, buildings, manufacturing, agriculture, health care delivery and higher education, and develops approaches to understand and transform them. It finds both strengths and obstacles to innovation in the national innovation environments - a new concept that combines the innovation system and the broader innovation context - for a group of Asian and European economies. 

Manufacturing is a major Legacy sector that presents a particular challenge because it is a critical stage in the innovation process. By increasingly offshoring production, the U.S. is offshoring important parts of its innovation capacity. "Innovate here, produce here," where the U.S. took all the gains of its strong innovation system at every stage, is being replaced by "innovate here, produce there," which threatens to lead to "produce there, innovate there."

To bring innovation to Legacy sectors, authors William Bonvillian and Charles Weiss recommend that policymakers focus on all stages of innovation from research through implementation. They should fill institutional gaps in the innovation system and take measures to address structural obstacles to needed disruptive innovations. In the specific case of advanced manufacturing, the production ecosystem can be recreated to reverse "jobless innovation" and add manufacturing-led innovation to the U.S.'s still-strong, research-oriented innovation system.


See Blog by the autors on the "Jobless Innovation" theme of the book:




See Interview of the authors by AAAS's Matt Hourihan, Director of the Budget and Policy Program:






Table of Contents


See Chapter-by-Chapter Summaries at Oxford Scholarship Online: 



Chapter 1 - The Root Problems: Expanding Innovation and Creating Jobs 
Chapter 2 - The Legacy Sector Challenge
Chapter 3 - Paradigms as Obstacles to Innovation in Legacy Sectors
Chapter 4 - Production Matters
Chapter 5 - What's Blocking Innovation in Legacy Sectors? 
Chapter 6 - Six U.S. Legacy Sectors: Energy, the Grid, Buildings, Air and Auto        Transport and Manufacturing 
Chapter 7 - Applying the Legacy Framework to Service Sectors: Higher  Education and Health Care Delivery
Chapter 8 - Innovating in the Defense Sector 
Chapter 9 - Enabling and Disabling National Innovation Environments in    Europe,  China, and India
Chapter 10 - Exporting Inappropriate Paradigms in Agriculture and Energy
Chapter 11 - Innovation Dynamics, Change Agents, and Innovation  Organization 
Chapter 12 - Launching Innovation into Legacy Sectors
Chapter 13 - Case Study: Applying the Policy Framework to Advanced  Manufacturing
Chapter 14 - Conclusions: Turning Covered Wagons East




Author Information


William B. Bonvillian is Director of the MIT Washington Office. Previously, he served as a senior advisor in the U.S. Senate and has taught technology policy at Georgetown, Johns Hopkins and MIT. He has served on a National Academies' Board and four Committees, received the IEEE Distinguished Public Service Award and was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a frequent speaker on science and technology policy topics. Early in his career, he served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation, and was a partner at a major national law firm. 

Charles Weiss was Distinguished Professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs (STIA) at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service until his retirement in 2014. He was STIA director from 1997-2006. He was the first Science and Technology Adviser to the World Bank. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He has a B.A. in chemistry and physics, summa cum laude, and a Ph.D. in chemical physics and biochemistry, both from Harvard University.



Bonvillian and Weiss have written an important book.  Their focus is on how innovation occurs and, more often, fails to occur in legacy sectors of the economy.  Of particular value is their analysis of the structural obstacles to disruptive innovation in these sectors, and how those obstacles can be overcome.”

Jeff Bingaman, former U.S. Senator and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources


“This remarkable book by William Bonvillian and Charles Weiss offers new insights, analysis, and solutions about one of the most important long-term challenges facing our economy: how to introduce technological innovations in legacy sectors. Bonvillian and Weiss provide detailed analysis of the root the causes of this challenge and then offer a framework for how to address it.” - Arun Majumdar, Precourt Professor at Stanford University, and founding Director of ARPA-E


“Because innovation is central to driving progress it’s unfortunate that innovation policy analysis is all too often one-dimensional. Technological Innovation in Legacy Sectors provides a sorely needed antidote, providing compelling analysis of how innovation actually occurs – or does not – and what governments need to do to accelerate the pace.”  - Robert D. Atkinson, President, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) 


“With this book Bonvillian and Weiss shine a vivid light on one of the most critical and least well-examined challenges of American innovation policy. The authors bring a unique mixture of expertise to the challenge: technical sophistication in research and innovation and a clear-headed policy perspective on what can actually be done in today’s challenging political environment. They’ve done a great service by developing a systematic approach to the challenge of legacy systems and providing a practical array of potential remedies. I hope this book can launch a vigorous national debate on a set of issues that have long hidden in plain sight.        - Henry Kelly, former President, Federation of American Scientists and senior official at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Energy


“In the past few decades, our attention has mostly focused on startups, leading to many breakthroughs but limited job creation. Yet most jobs are in established firms, whose share of private sector employment has actually increased during this same period. Technological Innovation in Legacy Sectors is aimed at this very important, yet somewhat neglected section of our economy.  The book thus fills a major gap and should be read by anyone concerned with our ‘jobless innovation.’” - Irving Wladawsky-Berger, former IBM Vice President for Technology Strategy and cochair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)


“Bonvillian and Weiss show again that they are master students of America’s innovation system.   In Technology Innovation in Legacy Sectors they not only focus on innovative approaches to developing, for example, green technologies, but suggest creative ways to introduce the new energy efficient technologies to established sectors and firms.  They are blazing a pathway to a green future.” - Kent H. Hughes, Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars 


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