If you cannot block, you better run: Small firms, cooperative innovation, and appropriation strategies
This empirical study examines small firms' strategies for capturing returns to investments in innovation. We find that small firms' strategies are qualitatively different from those found in earlier studies of both small and large firms. Most of the small firms examined here find informal means of protection, such as speed to market or secrecy, more important than patenting. Only firms with university cooperation--typically R&D intensive and science-based small firms--were likely to identify patents as the most important method of appropriating innovation returns in their field. Thus, the strategic choice for most small firms is between secrecy and speed to market. Firms that cooperate in innovation with horizontal partners or significantly depend on vertical partners tend to prefer speed, whereas process innovators with modest R&D investments or few cooperative R&D activities display a preference for trade secrets. Indeed, cooperation activities greatly influence the choice of intellectual property strategy for small firms. Earlier research has emphasized patents and trade secrets as key strategies of appropriation, yet these strategies do not appear to be very beneficial for small firms engaged in cooperative innovation. These results raise policy questions regarding the functionality of the existing system of intellectual property rights.
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