Technology Competitions and Standardization

Competitions among different ways of doing a particular task often end with a single technique dominating the market. In fact, this dominance often takes the form of a single technique being the only one used. Competitions among video cassetter recorder technologies, computer operating systems, automobile technologies (internal combustion, steam and electric) are all examples of technology competitions. The outcomes of these competitions are often driven by increasing returns to adoption--as a technology becomes more common, the net payoffs to using it increase.

Some Papers

Cowan, Robin and John H. Miller, "Technological Standards with Local Externalities and Decentralized Behaviour" Journal of Evolutionary Economics, vol 8(3), pp. 285-96, 1998.

Cowan, Robin and Philip Gunby, "Sprayed to Death: Pest Control Strategies and Technological Lock-in", Economic Journal , May, 1996, vol 106: 521-42.

This is available at JSTOR here.

Cowan, Robin and Staffan Hulten, "Escaping Lock-In: The Case of the Electric Vehicle", Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 1996.

The html version is missing the footnotes. The pdf version is complete.

Cowan, Robin. "Tortoises and Hares: Choice Among Technologies of Unknown Merit" Economic Journal, vol. 101, July, 1991. pp. 801-814

This is avialable at JSTOR, or directly here.

Cowan, Robin. "Nuclear Power Reactors: A Study of Technological Lock-In" Journal of Economic History, vol. 50, Sept, 1990 pp.541-566.

The html version is missing the footnotes. This is available through JSTOR here.

Cowan, Robin. "High Technology and the Economics of Standardization" in M. Dierkes and U. Hoffman, eds. New Technology at the Outset: Social Forces in the Shaping of Technological Innovation Frankfurt/Main: Campus Verlag, 1992. pp. 279-300.

The html version is missing footnotes. The pdf version is complete.

Cowan, Robin. "Rendements croissants d'adoption et politique technologique" in J. De Bandt and D. Foray eds, Evaluation economique de la Recherche et du Changement Technique Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1991. pp. 381-398.

Cowan, Robin. "Technological Competition and Variety: Issues of Diffusion and Intervention", in G. Bell, ed. Technology and Productivity: The Challenge for Policy Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 1991. pp. 509-522.


  • Staffan Hulten, Ecole Centrale, Paris, Grande Voie des Vignes, Chatenay-Malabry, France Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm, Sweden

  • Philip Gunby, Department of Economics, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand


  • John H. Miller, Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon Univeristy.

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