General purpose technologies (GPTs) provide fundamental breakthroughs that transform industries and provide a platform for increased productivity. While a large theoretical literature describes GPT characteristics there has been little empirical work that measures the attributes of GPTs. Our analysis focuses on patents associated with the Cohen--Boyer rDNA patents, a credible GPT candidate. We empirically test our predictions about technological complementarity, applicability and discontinuity against a control group of patents with similar origins. Our results suggest that the characteristics of GPTs may be discernable through the analysis of patent data. Copyright 2012 The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Associazione ICC. All rights reserved., Oxford University Press.
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