Firms involving academics when developing technology: does it make a difference?

Hanne Peeters (KU Leuven), Julie Callaert & Bart Van Looy, “Firms involving academics when developing technology: does it make a difference?”

This study analyzes the academic contribution to corporate technology development in Flanders (period 1991-2010), combining both empirical analyses and interview data. Firm patents which involved academic inventors were contrasted with firm patents developed in-house. In assessing impact, we distinguish in self or non-self assignment of forward citations. We further distinguished in the novelty oftechnology development and show that this relates to the modes of involvement and the impact of technology. The findings reveal that academically invented corporate patents are more inspired by scientific findings and less incremental compared to corporate patents without university involvement. Firms involve academics relatively more in exploratory activities outside their core technologies, and technology developments that do not have roots in existing technologies. If patent impact is considered, the picture is more nuanced. When examining private and social value, measured by respectively forward self-citations and forward citations without self-citations, university-invented corporate patents are of significantly less private value. However, when developing novel technologies firms, benefit - in terms of subsequent innovation by the firm itself - when they source expertise from academics. Finally, the results seem to suggest that more inventive risks are taken when technology development is not kept in-house. Involving academics implies relatively more ‘hits’, i.e. breakthrough innovations, and ‘misses’, i.e. inventions with no follow-up development by the firm.