Sony Minidisc: Failed Innovation?

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Sony MiniDisc: Failed Innovation?

A case study of the conception, production and distribution of the MiniDisc

David Reid

Technological change and advancement is driven by invention and innovation, and it is important to discern between these two very different terms. ‘The former refers to new concepts or products that derive from individual’s ideas or from scientific research. The latter, on the other hand, represents the commercialization of the invention itself’ (Scocco, 2006). There are countless numbers of occasions where good inventions fail to penetrate the marketplace. The Sinclair C5 (Marks, 1990), British Rail’s APT (Potter, 1989) and Sony’s very own nightmare, Betamax (Cusumano et al. 1992), are all examples of inventions that for one reason or another, failed to make the step up to innovation. ‘A fundamental requirement of a focus on technological change is the ability to identify product development opportunities and to translate these into successful products. It is also important that the product development process is effectively and efficiently organized and managed.’ (Maffin et al. 1997 p.53). If there is no market for the product, i.e. the invention tries to solve a non-existent problem, or if the development process is mismanaged and inefficient then it is likely that the product will be a flop.

The aim of this project is to analyse whether Sony’s MiniDisc (MD) format has breached the gap between invention and innovation. The strength of relevant appropriability regimes, emergence of a dominant design, the firm’s innovative capability, market dynamics, industry context and the status of complementary assets all factor into the outcome of the innovation process (Teece 1986). Only by looking at these factors in the case of the MD can a judgement be made its validity as an innovation.

In 1979, Sony launched the cassette Walkman, an innovation which defined a new product category, set industry standards and in an instant became the...
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