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R&D and technology purchase through licence agreements: complementary strategies and complementary assets

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This paper reports on a major UK-wide investigation into the role of inward technology licensing and in-house R&D as alternative and complementary strategies in new product and process development.The role of licensing in the technology strategy of the firm can be viewed as the ‘buy’ in the context of ‘make or buy’ technology decisions. Such technology purchases may be made for a number of reasons including insufficient in-house resources or gaps in R&D provision stemming from small scale, risk, low investment in research or diversification away from existing research competencies. However, technology markets might have substantial information imperfections and transaction costs. The tasks of finding a technology provider, transferring the technology inwards and absorbing it into commercially successful new products and processes, can inhibit the use of licensing agreements for technology acquisition.

This research, using a sample of 128 manufacturing companies (including both licensees and non-licensees), examines some key propositions around the use of technology licensing. Data was collected on technology strategies, complementary assets, internal organisation and market structure. Analysis of the data suggests that strategies of ‘buy and make’ are complements rather than alternatives, and that extensive use of licensing requires substantial complementary assets to be in place. The nature of product-market positioning was found to be a significant driver of technology strategy, with firms that pursue product differentiation being the most likely to license. Whilst a priori it might be expected that internal organisation would influence technology strategy, this study was only able to provide weak support for this.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Bristol Business School, University of the West of England, Coldharbour Lane, Frenchay, Bristol BS16 1QY

Publication date: 1998-10-01

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