This paper shows that inventors with an early patenting success have a higher inventive productivity during their remaining career. We use European patent data for a period of 32 years for 1240 German inventors. The patent data are linked with survey data that provide information on an extensive list of individual inventor characteristics and time variant information on work environment characteristics for the same period. We define an early success as being in the fastest quartile of inventors applying for the first patent after completing education or being in the highest quartile of citations received for the first patent. The higher career productivity seems to be a consequence of higher individual ability rather than cumulative advantage. Inventors with high productivity early in their career cannot increase their productivity further but instead experience a regression to the mean. Inventors with a fast or high-quality first patent also experience this regression, albeit at a lower rate. In addition, these inventors do not obtain better resources, such as a higher share of research and development time, larger employers, more voluntary job moves, or more co-inventors, during their remaining career than inventors without early success.
Michlbauer, Theresa and Thomas Zwick (2021), Precocious Inventors: Early Patenting Success and Lifetime Inventive Performance, ZEW Discussion Paper No. 21-041, Mannheim. Download