R&D Collaborations and Product Innovation

22 Jul 2010 Sandeep Mehta

The paper R&D Collaborations and Product Innovation in Journal of Product Innovation Management confirms some of the findings we discussed earlier in the week: It is good to collaborate with suppliers and not so good to develop products with customers. Specifically, this particular paper is based on R&D collaborations undertaken by a sample of 781 manufacturing firms during 1998–2002.  The paper finds that:

  1. Collaborations with suppliers have the highest positive impact on product innovation, followed by collaborations with universities. 
  2. R&D collaborations with customers do not appear to affect product innovation
  3. Collaborations with competitors appear to harm
  4. Positive influence of R&D collaborations with universities and suppliers is sustained over the long-term
  5. Negative influence of R&D collaborations with competitors is, fortunately, short-lived. 
Also, some specifics about quality of collaboration: 

Their findings indicate that ease of knowledge access, rather than breadth of knowledge, appears to drive the success of R&D collaborations for product innovation. R&D collaborations with suppliers or universities, which are characterized by relatively easy knowledge access, have a positive influence on product innovation, whereas R&D collaborations with customers or competitors, which are characterized by reduced ease in knowledge access, are not related or are even negatively related to product innovation.

More importantly, partners with a narrow knowledge-base (at least the part that is shared) is better for collaboration than otherwise.  This is similar to what we discussed in the paper on cross-function collaborations.

Moreover, to achieve product innovation with the help of R&D collaborations, it appears that the collaboration must first have mechanisms in place to facilitate the transfer of knowledge; once these are in place, it is better if the partner has a relatively narrow knowledge base. Thus, while R&D collaborations with both suppliers and universities are positively related to product innovation, the narrow knowledge base provided by collaborations with suppliers appears to have a larger positive impact on product innovation than the wider knowledge base provided by collaborations with universities

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