, Volume 101, Issue 1, pp 663–683 | Cite as

Dynamic patterns of technology collaboration: a case study of the Chinese automobile industry, 1985–2010

  • Yuandi Wang
  • Jian Li
  • Lutao Ning
  • Deming Zeng
  • Xin Gu


To investigate patterns of technology collaboration within the Chinese automobile industry, this study employs a unique dataset of patent applications that reveal a record of 64,938 collaborative relations in the industry during the period from 1985 to 2010. Our results indicate that over 60 % of the total collaborations were conducted after China entered the WTO. The invention and utility types of patents account for 98 % of the total collaborations throughout the sample period. Using a network analysis method, we find that the key differences between domestic enterprises collaborating with indigenous enterprises (DD collaboration) and with foreign firms (DF collaboration) are in patent types and technology domains. The DF network is also denser and more centralized than the DD network, although the amount of nodes and links of the DD network is greater than that of the DF collaboration network. The analysis and visualization of the collaboration networks and corresponding largest components reveal that a large number of domestic enterprises prefer to collaborate with top global automobile manufacturers. We also find that a number of universities have become key players in the collaborations among industry, universities and research institutes. This study provides a deeper understanding of technology collaborations from various perspectives and also highlights several avenues for future research.


Collaboration Network Patent Evolution process Automobile industry China 



This research is funded by national Science Foundation of China (grant no.71302133; grant no.71233002), Youth Project of Ministry of Education, Humanities and Social Sciences Planning Funding (grant no.13YJC790154), and the Sichuan University’s Special Research Program for the Philosophy Social Science from the Subordinate Universities of Ministry of Education’s Basic Research Foundation (SKYB201302; SKX201004).


  1. Abrami, R. M., Kirby, W. C., & McFarlan, F. W. (2014). Why China can’t innovate. Harvard Business Review, 92, 107–111.Google Scholar
  2. Ahuja, G. (2000). Collaboration networks, structural holes, and innovation: A longitudinal study. Administrative Science Quarterly, 45, 425–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allen, R. C. (1983). Collective invention. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 4, 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baum, J. A., Shipilov, A. V., & Rowley, T. J. (2003). Where do small worlds come from? Industrial and Corporate Change, 12, 697–725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Becker, W., & Dietz, J. (2004). R&D cooperation and innovation activities of firms—Evidence for the German manufacturing industry. Research Policy, 33, 209–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bierly, P. E., Damanpour, F., & Santoro, M. D. (2009). The application of external knowledge: Organizational conditions for exploration and exploitation. Journal of Management Studies, 46, 481–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bloomberg. (2010). China ends US’s reign as largest auto market. Accessed 17 Sep 2013.
  8. Borgatti, S. P., & Cross, R. (2003). A relational view of information seeking and learning in social networks. Management Science, 49, 432–445.CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  9. Borgatti, S. P., Everett, M. G., & Freeman, L. C. (2002). Ucinet for Windows: Software for social network analysis. Harvard, MA: Analytic Technologies.Google Scholar
  10. Burt, R. S. (2004). Structural holes and good ideas. American Journal of Sociology, 110, 349–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Butts, C. T. (2006). Exact bounds for degree centralization. Social Networks, 28, 283–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Butts, C. T. (2008). Social network analysis: A methodological introduction. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 11, 13–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cao, C., Li, N., Li, X., & Liu, L. (2013). Reforming China’s S&T system. Science, 341, 460–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cassiman, B., & Veugelers, R. (2006). In search of complementarity in innovation strategy: Internal R&D and external knowledge acquisition. Management Science, 52, 68–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cattani, G., & Ferriani, S. (2008). A core/periphery perspective on individual creative performance: Social networks and cinematic achievements in the Hollywood film industry. Organization Science, 19, 824–844.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chesbrough, H. (2003). Open innovation: The new imperative for creating and profiting from technology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press.Google Scholar
  17. Chesbrough, H., & Crowther, A. K. (2006). Beyond high tech: Early adopters of open innovation in other industries. R&D Management, 36, 229–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cheung, K.-Y., & Lin, P. (2004). Spillover effects of FDI on innovation in China: Evidence from the provincial data. China Economic Review, 15, 25–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cho, T.-S., & Shih, H.-Y. (2011). Patent citation network analysis of core and emerging technologies in Taiwan: 1997–2008. Scientometrics, 89, 795–811.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Choi, S. B., Lee, S. H., & Williams, C. (2011). Ownership and firm innovation in a transition economy: Evidence from China. Research Policy, 40, 441–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cohen, W. M., & Levinthal, D. A. (1989). Innovation and learning: the two faces of R & D. The Economic Journal, 99, 569–596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Cowan, R., & Jonard, N. (2004). Network structure and the diffusion of knowledge. Journal of economic Dynamics and Control, 28, 1557–1575.MathSciNetCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  23. Dahl, M. S., & Pedersen, C. Ø. (2004). Knowledge flows through informal contacts in industrial clusters: myth or reality? Research Policy, 33, 1673–1686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. de Nooy, W., Mrvar, A., & Batagelj, V. (2005). Exploratory social network analysis with Pajek. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Dodgson, M. (2009). Asia’s national innovation systems: Institutional adaptability and rigidity in the face of global innovation challenges. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 26, 589–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Doloreux, D., & Shearmur, R. (2012). Collaboration, information and the geography of innovation in knowledge intensive business services. Journal of Economic Geography, 12, 79–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dunning, J. H. (1988). Open R&D and open innovation: exploring the phenomenon. The eclectic paradigm of international production: a restatement and some possible extensions, 19, 1–31.Google Scholar
  28. Enkel, E., Gassmann, O., & Chesbrough, H. (2009). Open R&D and open innovation: exploring the phenomenon. R&D Management, 39, 311–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Eslami, H., Ebadi, A., & Schiffauerova, A. (2013). Effect of collaboration network structure on knowledge creation and technological performance: the case of biotechnology in Canada. Scientometrics, 97, 99–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fabrizio, K. R. (2009). Absorptive capacity and the search for innovation. Research Policy, 38, 255–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fleming, L., King, C., & Juda, A. I. (2007). Small worlds and regional innovation. Organization Science, 18, 938–954.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gao, X., Guan, J., & Rousseau, R. (2011). Mapping collaborative knowledge production in China using patent co-inventorships. Scientometrics, 88, 343–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Glänzel, W. (2001). National characteristics in international scientific co-authorship relations. Scientometrics, 51, 69–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Glänzel, W., & Schubert, A. (2001). Double effort = double impact? A critical view at international co-authorship in chemistry. Scientometrics, 50, 199–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Goncalves, E., & Almeida, E. (2009). Innovation and spatial knowledge spillovers: evidence from Brazilian patent data. Regional Studies, 43, 513–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gulati, R. (1999). Network location and learning: The influence of network resources and firm capabilities on alliance formation. Strategic Management Journal, 20, 397–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Handcock, M. S., Hunter, D. R., Butts, C. T., Goodreau, S. M., & Morris, M. (2008). statnet: Software tools for the representation, visualization, analysis and simulation of network data. Journal of Statistical Software, 24, 1548.Google Scholar
  38. He, J., & Hosein Fallah, M. (2009). Is inventor network structure a predictor of cluster evolution? Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 76, 91–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hong, W. (2008). Decline of the center: The decentralizing process of knowledge transfer of Chinese universities from 1985 to 2004. Research Policy, 37, 580–595.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hong, W., & Su, Y.-S. (2013). The effect of institutional proximity in non-local university–industry collaborations: An analysis based on Chinese patent data. Research Policy, 42, 454–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Howells, J., Gagliardi, D., & Malik, K. (2008). The growth and management of R&D outsourcing: evidence from UK pharmaceuticals. R&D Management, 38, 205–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Inkpen, A. C., & Tsang, E. W. (2005). Social capital, networks, and knowledge transfer. Academy of Management Review, 30, 146–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Laursen, K., & Salter, A. (2006). Open for innovation: The role of openness in explaining innovation performance among UK manufacturing firms. Strategic Management Journal, 27, 131–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Li, X. (2011). Sources of external technology, absorptive capacity, and innovation capability in Chinese state-owned high-tech enterprises. World Development, 39, 1240–1248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Li, X. (2012). Behind the recent surge of Chinese patenting: An institutional view. Research Policy, 41, 236–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Liu, W., & Dicken, P. (2006). Transnational corporations and ‘obligated embeddedness’: Foreign direct investment in China’s automobile industry. Environment and Planning A, 38, 1229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Luo, Y., & Tung, R. L. (2007). International expansion of emerging market enterprises: A springboard perspective. Journal of International Business Studies, 38, 481–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Motohashi, K., & Yun, X. (2007). China’s innovation system reform and growing industry and science linkages. Research Policy, 36, 1251–1260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Narula, R. (2004). R&D collaboration by SMEs: New opportunities and limitations in the face of globalisation. Technovation, 24, 153–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Newman, M. E. (2001). Scientific collaboration networks. I. Network construction and fundamental results. Physical Review E, 64, 016131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Park, H. W., & Leydesdorff, L. (2010). Longitudinal trends in networks of university–industry–government relations in South Korea: The role of programmatic incentives. Research Policy, 39, 640–649.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Saxenian, A. (1994). Regional advantage: Culture and competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Schartinger, D., Rammer, C., Fischer, M. M., & Fröhlich, J. (2002). Knowledge interactions between universities and industry in Austria: Sectoral patterns and determinants. Research Policy, 31, 303–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Schilling, M. A., & Phelps, C. C. (2007). Interfirm collaboration networks: The impact of large-scale network structure on firm innovation. Management Science, 53, 1113–1126.CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  55. Schmiele, A. (2012). Drivers for international innovation activities in developed and emerging countries. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 37, 98–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Schrader, S. (1991). Informal technology transfer between firms: Cooperation through information trading. Research Policy, 20, 153–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Schubert, A., & Glänzel, W. (2006). Cross-national preference in co-authorship, references and citations. Scientometrics, 69, 409–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sorenson, O. (2005). Social networks and industrial geography, entrepreneurships, the new economy and public policy (pp. 55–69). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Sun, P., Mellahi, K., & Thun, E. (2010). The dynamic value of MNE political embeddedness: The case of the Chinese automobile industry. Journal of International Business Studies, 41, 1161–1182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Swar, B., & Khan, G. F. (2014). Mapping ICT knowledge infrastructure in South Asia. Scientometrics, 99, 117–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Uzzi, B. (1996). The sources and consequences of embeddedness for the economic performance of organizations: The network effect. American Sociological Review, 61, 674–698.Google Scholar
  62. Von Hippel, E. (1987). Cooperation between rivals: informal know-how trading. Research Policy, 16, 291–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Von Hippel, E. (2007). The sources of innovation. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Walter, J., Lechner, C., & Kellermanns, F. W. (2007). Knowledge transfer between and within alliance partners: Private versus collective benefits of social capital. Journal of Business Research, 60, 698–710.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Wang, H. (2003). Policy reforms and foreign direct investment. The case of the Chinese automobile industry. Journal of Economics and Business, 6, 287–314.Google Scholar
  66. Wang, Y., Pan, X., Wang, X., Chen, J., Ning, L., & Qin, Y. (2013). Visualizing knowledge space: a case study of Chinese licensed technology, 2000–2012. Scientometrics, 98, 1935–1954.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wang, Y., & Zhou, Z. (2013). The dual role of local sites in assisting firms with developing technological capabilities: Evidence from China. International Business Review, 22, 63–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wasserman, S., & Faust, K. (1994). Social network analysis: Methods and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. White, D. R., & Jorion, P. (1996). Kinship networks and discrete structure theory: Applications and implications. Social Networks, 18, 267–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Yam, R., Lo, W., Tang, E. P., & Lau, A. K. (2011). Analysis of sources of innovation, technological innovation capabilities, and performance: An empirical study of Hong Kong manufacturing industries. Research Policy, 40, 391–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Zaheer, A., & Soda, G. (2009). Network evolution: The origins of structural holes. Administrative Science Quarterly, 54, 1–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Zheng, J., Zhao, Z.-Y., Zhang, X., Chen, D.-Z., & Huang, M.-H. (2013). International collaboration development in nanotechnology: A perspective of patent network analysis. Scientometrics, 98, 683–702.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Zhou, P., Zhong, Y., & Yu, M. (2013). A bibliometric investigation on China–UK collaboration in food and agriculture. Scientometrics, 97, 267–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Zhu, W., & Guan, J. (2013). A bibliometric study of service innovation research: Based on complex network analysis. Scientometrics, 94, 1195–1216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yuandi Wang
    • 1
  • Jian Li
    • 2
  • Lutao Ning
    • 3
  • Deming Zeng
    • 2
  • Xin Gu
    • 1
  1. 1.Business School of Sichuan UniversitySichuan UniversityChengduChina
  2. 2.School of Business AdministrationHunan UniversityChangshaChina
  3. 3.School of Business and ManagementQueen Mary, University of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations