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How remote are R&D labs? Distance factors and international innovative activities


  • Davide Castellani

    (Department of Economics, Finance and Statistics, University of Perugia, Perugia, Italy)

  • Alfredo Jimenez

    (Department of Business Administration, University of Burgos, Burgos, Spain)

  • Antonello Zanfei

    (Department of Economics, Society and Politics, University of Urbino, Urbino, Italy)


This paper shows that value creation by multinational enterprises (MNEs) is the result of activities where geographic distance effects can be overcome. We submit that geographic distance has a relatively low impact on international research and development (R&D) investments, owing to the spiky nature of innovation, and to the unique ability of MNEs to absorb and transfer knowledge on a global scale. On the one hand, MNEs need to set up their labs as close as possible to specialized technology clusters where valuable knowledge is concentrated, largely regardless of distance from their home base. On the other, MNEs have historically developed technical and organizational competencies that enable them to transfer knowledge within their internal networks and across technology clusters at relatively low cost. Using data on R&D and manufacturing investments of 6320 firms in 59 countries, we find that geographic distance has a lower negative impact on the probability of setting up R&D than manufacturing plants. Furthermore, once measures of institutional proximity are accounted for, MNEs are equally likely to set up R&D labs in nearby or in more remote locations. This result is driven by MNEs based in Triad countries, whereas for non-Triad MNEs the effect of geographic distance on cross-border R&D is negative and significant.

Suggested Citation

  • Davide Castellani & Alfredo Jimenez & Antonello Zanfei, 2013. "How remote are R&D labs? Distance factors and international innovative activities," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Academy of International Business, vol. 44(7), pages 649-675, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:pal:jintbs:v:44:y:2013:i:7:p:649-675

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