Does absorptive capacity determine collaboration returns to innovation? A geographical dimension

Do Spanish firms collaborate in research activities with international partners?

Research alliances can be seen as a vehicle for voluntary knowledge exchanges. Descriptive statistics, based on our sample of Spanish firms from the PITEC, show that the proportion of international alliances with partners in more distant geographical areas (US, China, India and other countries), although lower in number if compared to research alliances with geographically closest partners, has increased over the period 2004-2011. This suggests that firms are expanding technological interaction with different and increasingly geographically dispersed actors.

Percentage of cooperative firms by type of alliance

2005 2007 2009 2011
% Cooperative firms over innovative firms 0.358 0.339 0.353 0.378
 
Geographical areas of alliances (% of each category over cooperative firms)
  National exclusively 67.76 64.20 62.53 58.18
  International exclusively 5.12 5.25 4.32 4.46
  National & International 27.12 30.54 33.15 37.36
  Total 100 100 100 100
  International alliances
  European exclusively 79.86 71.09 75.49 69.57
  US exclusively 3.60 7.03 6.86 6.52
  Asian/Others exclusively 7.19 6.25 9.80 11.96
  Multiple foreign areas (at least two) 9.35 15.63 7.84 11.96
  Total 100 100 100 100

Are national and international collaboration agreements equally beneficial?

 We find that the impact of extra-European cooperation on innovation performance is larger than that of national and European cooperation, indicating that firms tend to benefit more from interaction with international collaborators as a way to access new technologies or specialized and novel knowledge that they are unable to find locally. Our findings also show that extra-European alliances, especially with US partners, impact on innovation more importantly probably due to the fact that in some sectors, the US conducts research at the technological frontier. But also cooperation with other areas has a greater impact on innovative performance than national alliances.

Which is the role of absorptive capacity on the returns to collaboration agreements?

We find evidence of the positive role played by absorptive capacity, concluding that it implies a higher premium on the innovation returns to cooperation in the international case and mainly in the European one. Firms that have high absorptive capacity are more efficient at translating external knowledge from cooperative agreements into new, specific commercial applications. Further, this absorptive capacity seems especially efficient when the partner is international, probably due to the fact that such absorptive capacity gives the ability to better understand and assimilate the knowledge from a different national system of innovation. Interestingly enough, we obtain that although cooperating exclusively with European partners may imply benefits, they do not seem to surpass the costs of managing such international cooperation unless the firm combines it with a higher absorptive capacity to reduce the barriers posed by national differences.

 

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