The open innovation paradox: Knowledge sharing and protection in R&D collaborations

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319 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to investigate the paradox that arises when firms simultaneously share and protect their knowledge in an alliance with other organizations. The goal of this paper therefore is to explore this tension field in such a coupled open innovation process and to identify which strategies can be developed to cope with this tension. Design/methodology/approach: The study was initially guided by a literature review and exploratory interviews, and it ultimately develops an inductive framework based on a multiple case study approach. The paper presents eight cases of a focal firm involved in a particular R&D collaboration. The case studies are based on a variety of data sources, including a number of semi-structured interviews. Findings: This paper unravels the tension field of knowledge sharing and protection in R&D collaborations, with the knowledge characteristics at the core and with the knowledge embodiment and relational dimension as mediating factors. These forces are in turn influenced by the collaboration characteristics and environment. Moreover, the case studies show different ways to cope with the tension between knowledge sharing and protection, such as an open knowledge exchange strategy and a layered collaboration scheme with inner and outer members. Licensing is moreover presented as a concrete way to implement such coping strategies. Originality/value: This paper provides an holistic perspective on the knowledge paradox in R&D collaborations as a coupled process of open innovation. Moreover, it describes two concrete strategies to cope with the tension field as well as the role and implications of licensing as a particular mechanism to overcome the open innovation paradox.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-117
Number of pages25
JournalEuropean Journal of Innovation Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Intellectual property
  • Licensing
  • Strategic alliances. Governance


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