This paper looks at the outsourcing of research and development (R&D) activities. We consider cost reducing R&D and allow manufacturing firms to decide whether to outsource the project to research subcontractors or carry out the research in-house. We use a principal-agent framework and consider fixed and revenue-sharing contracts. We solve for the optimal contract under these constraints. We find that allowing for revenue-sharing contracts increases the chance of outsourcing and improves economic efficiency. However, the principal may still find it optimal to choose a contract that allows the leakage to occur—a second-best outcome when leakage cannot be monitored or verified. Stronger protection of trade secrets can induce more R&D outsourcing without inhibiting technology diffusion and increase economic efficiency, as long as it does not significantly lengthen the product cycle.
KeywordsR&D outsourcing Principal-agent problem Fixed versus revenue-sharing contract
JEL ClassificationD21 O31 L14
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