Determinants of Alliance Portfolio Complexity and its Effect on Innovative Performance of Companies

Journal of Product Innovation Management, June 2011

38 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2011

See all articles by Geert Duysters

Geert Duysters

Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) - Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies (ECIS); University of Maastricht

Boris Lokshin

Maastricht University, School of Business and Economics

Date Written: November 19, 2008


Alliance formation is often described as a mechanism used by firms to increase voluntary knowledge transfers. Access to external knowledge has been increasingly recognized as a main source of firm’s innovativeness. A phenomenon that has recently emerged is alliance portfolio complexity. In line with recent studies this article develops a measure of portfolio complexity in technology partnerships in terms of diversity of elements of the alliance portfolio with which a firm must interact. The analysis considers an alliance portfolio that includes different partnership types (competitor, customer, supplier, and university & research center). Factors that determine portfolio complexity and its impact on technological performance of firms remain largely unexplored. This article examines firms’ decisions to form alliance portfolios of foreign and domestic partners by two groups of firms: innovators (firms that are successful in introducing new products to the market), and imitators (firms that are successful at introducing new products, which are not new to the market). This study also assesses a non-linear impact of the portfolio complexity measure on firms’ innovative performance.

The empirical models are estimated using data on more than 1800 firms from two consecutive Community Innovation Surveys conducted in 1998 and 2000 in the Netherlands. The results suggest that alliance portfolios of innovators are broader in terms of the different types of alliance partners as compared to those of imitators. This finding underlines the importance of establishing a ‘radar function’ of links to various different partners in accessing novel information. Specifically, the results indicate that foremost innovators have a strong propensity to form portfolios consisting of international alliances. This underlines the importance of this type of partnerships in the face of the growing internationalization of R&D and global technology sourcing. Being an innovator or imitator also increases the propensity to form a portfolio of domestic alliances, relative to non-innovators; but this propensity is not stronger for innovators. Innovators appear to derive benefit from both intensive (exploitative) and broad (explorative) use of external information sources. The former type of sourcing is more important for innovators, while the latter is more important for imitators. Finally, alliance complexity is found to have an inverse U-shape relationship to innovative performance. On the one hand, complexity facilitates learning and innovativeness; on the other hand, each organization has a certain management capacity to deal with complexity which sets limits on the amount of alliance portfolio complexity that can be managed within firm. This clearly suggests that firms face a certain cognitive limit in terms of the degree of complexity they can handle. Despite the noted advantages of an increasing level of alliance portfolio complexity firms will at a certain stage reach a specific inflection point after which marginal costs of managing complexity are higher than the expected benefits from this increased complexity.

Keywords: innovation, R&D cooperation, alliance portfolio, technological performance

JEL Classification: D24, O31, O32

Suggested Citation

Duysters, Geert and Lokshin, Boris, Determinants of Alliance Portfolio Complexity and its Effect on Innovative Performance of Companies (November 19, 2008). Journal of Product Innovation Management, June 2011, Available at SSRN: or

Geert Duysters

Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) - Eindhoven Center for Innovation Studies (ECIS) ( email )

Box 513
NL-5600 MB Eindhoven
+31 40 247 4646 (Fax)

University of Maastricht

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, Limburg 6200MD

Boris Lokshin (Contact Author)

Maastricht University, School of Business and Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 616
Maastricht, 6200 MD
+31 43 388 3697 (Phone)
+31 43 325 4893 (Fax)

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