Successful Patterns of Scientific Knowledge Sourcing - Mix and Match

31 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2008 Last revised: 25 Jun 2014

See all articles by Birgit Aschhoff

Birgit Aschhoff

ZEW – Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research

Wolfgang Sofka

Tilburg University; CentER; CIR

Date Written: 2008


Unique knowledge is a key factor for companies for generating new products, services and processes and thus, to remain competitive. It is increasingly emerging outside of firm boundaries. Universities and public research institutions have been identified as important sources of new knowledge. Academic knowledge spillovers appear especially promising as they usually have a high degree of novelty and therefore a large potential to generate important assets for differentiation in competition by creating radically new products and processes. Our goal is to provide a more detailed perspective on how firms can design their interactions with universities to acquire knowledge and apply it successfully. We extend existing research on industry-science interactions by moving from the effects of isolated types of interactions to combinations. We cover a broad set of potential interactions ranging from informal contacts and licensing to personnel exchange and joint research projects. First, we develop the concepts of breadth (diversity of interactions) and depth (intensity of interactions) in terms of the channels which are used by firms for knowledge acquisition from universities. Secondly, we condense both aspects into patterns of interactions arguing that different forms of interaction are complementary to one another. To test our theoretical framework empirically we use a survey of more than 800 firms from both manufacturing and services sectors in Germany and the way in which they organize their interactions with universities. This survey puts us in the position to relate these interaction strategies to innovation success which is directly based on university inputs.

We find that the firms that are able and willing to engage in various types of interactions (breadth) and highly developed interactions (depth) perform better with regard to innovation success. When we compare both effects we find that broadening a firm's interaction approach with universities has stronger performance effects on innovation success (breadth) than strengthening the intensity of existing ones (depth). The explorative step of our analysis shows that interactions with universities can be grouped into four archetypical clusters. All clusters of interaction perform better than a sporadic one supporting our finding on the importance of broadening interaction approaches. Besides, we find that extensive strategies (combining all types of interactions) with high intensities outperform loose ones which focus on flexible and low commitment types like informal contacts. However, extensive strategies are not significantly more beneficial than the ones which are primarily based upon formal types like contract and joint research projects.

We conclude that firms may increase the returns from interactions with universities by engaging in a more diverse (or broader) spectrum of interactions. While loose interactions are not the optimal ones they may be easily achieved because they require less resource commitments than other forms. However, they should be considered as an intermediate step as the merits of this approach are limited. We suspect that this is due to a lack of opportunities for formalizing and legally appropriating the returns of joint research efforts. Formal types of interactions (joint/contract research) provide this kind of protection and it is not significantly more beneficial to engage in all other types on interactions at the same time.

Keywords: Technology transfer, industry-science links, open innovation, university knowledge

JEL Classification: O32, D83, C30

Suggested Citation

Aschhoff, Birgit and Sofka, Wolfgang, Successful Patterns of Scientific Knowledge Sourcing - Mix and Match (2008). ZEW - Centre for European Economic Research Discussion Paper No. 08-033, Available at SSRN: or

Birgit Aschhoff (Contact Author)

ZEW – Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research ( email )

P.O. Box 10 34 43
L 7,1 D-68161 Mannheim
+49 621 1235 182 (Phone)
+49 621 1235 170 (Fax)

Wolfgang Sofka

Tilburg University ( email )


CentER ( email )

P.O. Box 90153
Tilburg, 5000 LE

CIR ( email )

Warandelaan 2
Tilburg, 5000 LE

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