Innovation and foreign technology in Italy 1861-2011

Federico Barbiellini Amidei, John Cantwell, Anna Spadavecchia

Research output: Working paperDiscussion paper


The paper explores the long run evolution of Italy’s performance in technological innovation as a function of international technology transfer, reconstructing the different phases and dimensions of Italian innovative activity, tracking the transfer of foreign technological knowledge through a number of channels, analysing the impact of imported technology. The study is based on a newly constructed dataset, over the 1861-2009 period, composed of variables related to: innovation activity performance; foreign technology transfer; domestic absorptive and innovative capability. The analysis highlights, also by econometric assessment, the significant contribution of foreign technology both to innovation activity results and to productivity growth. Differences across channels of technology transfer and historical phases emerge, also in connection with the evolution of human capital endowment and domestic innovative capacity. Machinery imports contributed positively both to innovation activity and to productivity growth; inward FDI contributed positively to productivity growth, but not to indigenous innovation activity; the accumulation of technical human capital fuelled both. In the long Italian Golden Age, for the first time the association of foreign technological knowledge with indigenous innovation processes strengthened productivity significantly. More recently instead the dismal productivity growth is directly associated with formalised innovation activity under-performance and reduced imports of disembodied technology.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationRome
Number of pages87
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2011

Publication series

NameQuaderni di Storia Economia
PublisherBanca d'Italia
ISSN (Electronic)2281-6097


  • Italy
  • technology transfer
  • innovation
  • absorptive capability
  • patenting


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