The Journal of Technology Transfer

, Volume 37, Issue 6, pp 967-987

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The structure and dynamics of the global network of inter-firm R&D partnerships 1989–2002

  • Michał BojanowskiAffiliated withInterdisciplinary Centre for Mathematical and Computational Modelling, University of Warsaw Email author 
  • , Rense CortenAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology/ICS, Utrecht University
  • , Bastian WestbrockAffiliated withUtrecht University School of Economics


Research and development (R&D) partnerships are formed to share the risks and benefits of R&D. At the macro level, they result in a globe-spanning network that can be a valuable source of international knowledge spillovers. This network is the subject of a considerable body of literature. Often-made claims are that R&D collaboration is an important activity in a competitive environment, but that the importance of international partnerships has declined over time. Furthermore, it is claimed that collaborations are disproportionally concentrated within the developed economies. However, this literature fails to account for variations in the sizes of underlying firm populations between countries and over time. We argue that these population sizes create an opportunity structure of available collaboration partners for firms, and that ignoring variations in this structure potentially leads to erroneous conclusions about the structure and dynamics of the R&D network. To address this problem, we study the structure and dynamics of the global R&D network on an international and cross-industry scale using longitudinal data for 1989–2002. We integrate data on public firms and their R&D partnerships and confront earlier findings with our data and a set of methods, which enables us to correct for the structure and dynamics in the firm population. While our study confirms previous findings concerning the worldwide trend in collaborative activity, it also shows that results on individual countries need correction. In particular, the importance of R&D collaboration for US companies is overestimated, while their openness towards foreign partners is underestimated.


Inter-firm network R&D partnership International technology transfer Social network analysis

JEL Classification

D22 F23 L14 L24 O32