The IT Law Wiki
"Technological progress drives long-term economic growth."[1]


General purpose technologies are

technologies that are applicable to virtually any activity, and have the capacity to transform those activities by improving efficiency or creating opportunities for new ways of doing things.[2]

"ICTstelecommunications, computing and the Internet — are clearly recognizable as general purpose technologies within this definition."[3]


As economists Timothy Bresnahan and Manuel Trajtenberg explained in a 1995 paper,

Whole eras of technical progress and economic growth appear to be driven by a few key technologies, which we call "General Purpose Technologies" (GPTs). The steam engine and the electric motor may have played such a role in the past, whereas semiconductors and computers may be doing as much in our era. GPTs are characterized by pervasiveness (they are used as inputs by many downstream sectors), inherent potential for technical improvements, and innovative complementarities, meaning that the productivity of R&D in downstream sectors increases as a consequence of innovation in the GPT. Thus, as GPTs improve they spread throughout the economy, bringing about generalized productivity gains.'[4] The report continued, 'As use of the GPT grows, its effects become significant at the aggregate level, thus affecting overall growth.'[5]
The Internet has the characteristics of a GPT. Businesses of all kinds and sizes use it to improve their processes, from procurement to supply chain management, market research to sales and asset management to customer support. It has driven performance improvements; for example, the average U.S. broadband connection speed has grown more than 20% per year for the last several years. These improvements are driving technology and business innovation in several other sectors, including health care, education, energy, online commerce and the government."[6]

"GPTs significantly affect or benefit entire national or global economies and can transform societies."[7]


  1. See, e.g., Paul Romer, "Endogenous Technological Change," 98 J. Pol. Econ. S71 (1990).
  2. Digital Content Industry Action Agenda, at 10.
  3. ICTs, the Internet and Sustainable Development: Towards a New Paradigm, at 10.
  4. Timothy Bresnahan & Manuel Trajtenberg, "General Purpose Technologies 'Engines of Growth?'" 1 (Nat’l Bureau of Econ. Research, Working Paper No. W4148, 1995) (full-text).
  5. Elhanan Helpman & Manuel Trajtenberg, "A Time to Sow and a Time to Reap: Growth Based on General Purpose Technologies," in General Purpose Technologies and Economic Growth 55–84 (1998).
  6. See, e.g., Richard G. Harris, "The Internet as GPT: Factor Market Implications, in General Purpose Technologies and Economic Growth" 145–66 (1998); Richard G. Lipsey et al., "Economic Transformations: General Purpose Technologies and Long Term Economic Growth" 133 (2005).
  7. Nanomanufacturing: Emergence and Implications for U.S. Competitiveness, the Environment, and Human Health, at 13.