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Invention arises from novel combinations of prior technologies. However, prior studies of creativity have suggested that overly novel combinations may be harmful to invention. Apart from the factors of expertise, market, etc., there may be such a thing as ‘too much’ or ‘too little’ novelty that will determine an invention’s future value, but little empirical evidence exists in the literature. Using technical patents as the proxy of inventions, our analysis of 3.9 million patents identifies a clear ‘sweet spot’ in which the mix of novel combinations of prior technologies favors an invention’s eventual success. Specifically, we found that the invention categories with the highest mean values and hit rates have moderate novelty in the center of their combination space and high novelty in the extreme of their combination space. Too much or too little central novelty suppresses the positive contribution of extreme novelty in the invention. Furthermore, the combination of scientific and broader knowledge beyond patentable technologies creates additional value for invention and enlarges the advantage of the novelty sweet spot. These findings may further enable data-driven methods both for assessing invention novelty and for profiling inventors, and may inspire a new strand of data-driven design research and practice.
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