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Knowledge Transfer Abroad: The Role of U.S. Inventors within Global R&D Networks

NBER2018.06.14

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The location of US multinational foreign R&D has shifted significantly to include emerging markets in addition to traditional Western R&D hubs, resulting in two challenges for multinationals: (1) how to transfer knowledge across geographic distances, and (2) how to facilitate learning when local knowledge sources in given technological areas are inadequate. This paper argues that to overcome these challenges, multinationals utilize home country inventors on foreign affiliate inventor teams ? and in particular on teams in locations with insufficiently specialized local knowledge stocks ? to facilitate knowledge transfer. Empirical analysis of a comprehensive dataset of US multinational R&D and patenting activity provides robust support for this argument. The findings have important implications for understanding how countries can gain expertise in technical areas and how poor countries can escape the knowledge trap, and they provide insight into management of increasingly dispersed multinational global R&D networks, particularly in locations with relatively unspecialized local inventors.

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