The decline of science in corporate R&D

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Research summary: In this article, we document a shift away from science by large corporations between 1980 and 2006. We find that publications by company scientists have declined over time in a range of industries. We also find that the value attributable to scientific research has dropped, whereas the value attributable to technical knowledge (as measured by patents) has remained stable. These trends are unlikely to be driven principally by changes in publication practices. Furthermore, science continues to be useful as an input into innovation. Our evidence points to a reduction of the private benefits of internal research. Large firms still value the golden eggs of science (as reflected in patents), but seem to be increasingly unwilling to invest in the golden goose itself (the internal scientific capabilities). Managerial summary: There is a widespread belief among commentators that large American corporations are withdrawing from research. Large corporations may still collaborate with universities and acquire promising science-based start-ups, but their labs increasingly focus on developing existing knowledge and commercializing it, rather than creating new knowledge. In this article, we combine firm-level financial information with a large and comprehensive data set on firm publications, patents and acquisitions to quantify the withdrawal from science by large American corporations between 1980 and 2006. This withdrawal is associated with a decline in the private value of research activities, even though scientific knowledge itself remains important for corporate invention. We discuss the managerial and policy implications of our findings.




Arora, A., Belenzon, S., & Patacconi, A. (2018). The decline of science in corporate R&D. Strategic Management Journal, 39(1), 3–32.

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