Corporate Innovation Systems – A Comparative Study of Multi-Technology Corporations in Japan, Sweden and the USA

This paper elaborates on the concept of ‘corporate innovation system’ and examines a number of technology and management issues, judged by industry to be highly prominent, e.g. technology acquisition, technology diversification, internationalization of R&D, IP management and commercialization of new technologies, based on samples of corporations in Japan, Sweden and USA. These issues constitute important features of corporate systems of innovation and form a basis for a comparative analysis. It is shown that external technology acquisition through various strategies increases in importance in general, as does technology diversification. As a result corporations become multi-technological (“mul-tech”) and at the same time quasi-integrated corporate systems of innovation arise in which in-house R&D is managed together with a mix of external technology acquisition strategies with various contractual forms. Product case studies further show that external technology acquisition is associated with technology diversification into increasingly costly new technologies, technologies that are increasingly multi-firm led. This in turn spurs the formation of technology markets of various types. Data at corporate level further show a strong impact of technology diversification on R&D expenditures and corporate sales. A breakdown of corporations into strategic groups shows that diversified “mul-tech” corporations grew faster than other corporations, while focused corporations had a second best strategy for growth. However, in order to realise growth through diversification it is of vital importance to gear technology management towards reaping economies of scale, scope and speed through coordination, conflict resolution and technology transfer. This presents new challenges to traditional in-house R&D management as well as to policy makers.

In comparing managerial capabilities and other features of corporate innovation systems there are clear nation- specific features, especially Japanese ones. To a considerable extent these have developed during a catch-up stage and could thus be interpreted as stage-specific. Some capabilities are likely to be conducive to innovation in a subsequent stage of forging ahead, while some will be dysfunctional. The paper finally discusses the prospects for managerial evolution and convergence and the interplay between managerial and technological innovations.