Keith Pavitt (London, 13 January 1937 – Lewes, East Sussex, 20 December 2002) was an English scholar in the field of Science and Technology Policy. He was professor of Science and Technology Policy at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) of the University of Sussex from 1984 to his death.
Keith Pavitt grew up in Hackney, London, and as a child he experienced air-bombing, spending a lot of time in bomb shelters. He got an open scholarship to study at Trinity College, Cambridge. During National Service, he qualified as an RAF pilot. At Cambridge he obtained a First in Engineering in 1959 and was Senior Scholar at Trinity. He won a fellowship in economics and public policy at Harvard University in 1969-1961. He then joined the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris. In the early 1960s, this was carrying out pioneering policy research, in particular on the development of policies for science, engineering and innovation. During this time he started a life-long collaboration with Chris Freeman, a British economist who was developing some of the first international statistics on Research and Development. After a year at Princeton University, Pavitt moved to Sussex University in 1971. For 30 years Pavitt was at the forefront of SPRU research. He received a Laurea Honoris Causa from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
Contributions to Science and Technology Policy
Keith Pavitt pioneered new methods to measure innovation and technical change. Together with Pari Patel, he developed the use of patents as a science and technology indicator. In the early 1980s, he also developed, together with John Townsend and other colleagues, a comprehensive database of innovations introduced in the UK since the end of the war. This database was used by several scholars and it is still a milestone in innovation measurement. Together with Roy Rothwell, he also developed the theory and practice of innovation management. As co-editor of academic journal Research Policy. Policy and management studies of science, technology and innovation,. he contributed to enhance its reputation to become the most influential publication in the field.
The single most important contribution provided by Pavitt to the economics of innovation is his taxonomy of innovating firms. Pavitt argued that the sources and purposes of innovation are sector-specific.
Keith Pavitt was a crucial figure, together with his mentor Chris Freeman, to make SPRU a centre of international excellence in the field of innovation studies, with close collaboration with colleagues from all continents. He collaborated closely with Belgian economist Luc Soete, with Italian social scientist Giovanni Dosi, and he kept a strong intellectual link with the American economist Richard R. Nelson. A large number of papers were co-authored with the Indian economist Pari Patel.
For his retirement, his colleagues organized a major Conference in honour of Keith Pavitt “What do we know about innovation?”. Unexpectedly, Pavitt died several months before the Conference was held. The Conference became a major tribute to his life and works. The most important scholars in the field of science and technology policy attended it at SPRU, University of Sussex, on 12–15 November 2003,
The Library of the Science Policy Research Unit and the Laboratorio di Economia dell’Innovazione of the University of Florence are named after him.