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Abstract

New product innovation is a process of embodying new knowledge in a product and technology licensing is getting popular as a means to innovations and introduction of new product to the market in today`s competitive global market environment. Incumbents often rely on technology licensing to access new product opportunities created by other firms. Prior research has examined various aspects of technology licensing agreements such as specific contract terms of licensing agreements, e.g., distribution of control rights, exclusivity of licensing agreements, cross-licensing, and the scope of licensing agreements. This study aims to provide answers to an important, but under-researched question: why do some incumbents initiate more licensing agreement for exploratory learning while others do it for exploitative learning along the innovation process?We attempt to extend our knowledge of licensing agreements from an organizational learning perspective. Technology licensing as a specific form of interfirm linkages can be initiated with different learning objectives along the process of new product innovation. The exploratory stages of the innovation process such as discovery or research stages involve extensive searches to create new knowledge or capabilities, whereas the exploitative stages of the innovation process such as application or test stages near the commercialization are more focused on developing specific applications or improving their efficiency or reliability. Thus, different stages of the innovation process generate different types of learning and the resulting technological resources. We examine when incumbents as licensees initiate more licensing agreements for exploratory learning objectives and when more for exploitative learning objectives, focusing on two factors that may influence a firm`s formation of exploratory and exploitative licensing agreements: 1) its past radical and incremental innovation experience and 2) its internal investments in R&D and marketing. We develop and test our hypotheses regarding the relationship between a firm`s radical and incremental new product experience, R&D investment intensity and marketing investment intensity, and the likelihood of engaging in exploratory and exploitive licensing agreements. Using data collected from various secondary sources (Recap database, Compustat database, and FDA website), we analyzed technology licensing agreements initiated in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries from 1988 to 2011. The results of this study show that incumbents initiate exploratory rather than exploitative licensing agreements when they have more radical innovation experience and when they invest in R&D activities more intensively; in contrast, they initiate exploitative rather than exploratory licensing agreements when they have more incremental innovation experience and when they invest in marketing activities more intensively. The findings of this study contribute to the licensing and interfirm cooperation studies. First, this study lays a foundation to understand the organizational learning aspect of technology licensing agreements. Second, this study sheds lights on how a firm`s internal investments in R&D and marketing are linked to its tendency to initiate licensing agreements along the innovation process. Finally, the findings of this study provide important insight to managers regarding which technologies to gain via licensing agreements. This study suggests that firms need to consider their internal investments in R&D and marketing as well as their past innovation experiences when they initiate licensing agreements along the process of new product innovation.

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