Journal of International Business Studies

, Volume 44, Issue 7, pp 649–675 | Cite as

How remote are R&D labs? Distance factors and international innovative activities

  • Davide Castellani
  • Alfredo Jimenez
  • Antonello Zanfei


This paper shows that value creation by multinational enterprises (MNEs) is the result of activities where geographic distance effects can be overcome. We submit that geographic distance has a relatively low impact on international research and development (R&D) investments, owing to the spiky nature of innovation, and to the unique ability of MNEs to absorb and transfer knowledge on a global scale. On the one hand, MNEs need to set up their labs as close as possible to specialized technology clusters where valuable knowledge is concentrated, largely regardless of distance from their home base. On the other, MNEs have historically developed technical and organizational competencies that enable them to transfer knowledge within their internal networks and across technology clusters at relatively low cost. Using data on R&D and manufacturing investments of 6320 firms in 59 countries, we find that geographic distance has a lower negative impact on the probability of setting up R&D than manufacturing plants. Furthermore, once measures of institutional proximity are accounted for, MNEs are equally likely to set up R&D labs in nearby or in more remote locations. This result is driven by MNEs based in Triad countries, whereas for non-Triad MNEs the effect of geographic distance on cross-border R&D is negative and significant.


cross-border investments geographic distance institutional distance innovation and R&D 



The authors thank John Cantwell, Mark Lorenzen, Vasyl Taras, three anonymous reviewers and the Guest Editors (Sjoerd Beugelsdijk and Ram Mudambi) for their helpful comments. This paper also benefited from comments received at various workshops, conferences and seminars, including those held at the Fox School of Business (Temple University, Philadelphia, USA), Henley Business School (University of Reading, UK), Rutgers Business School (Newark, NJ, USA), UNU-MERIT and School of Economics and Business (Maastricht University, the Netherlands), University of Lausanne (Switzerland) and Nanzan University (Nagoya, Japan). Castellani and Zanfei gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Italian Ministry of University and Research (Prin 2009 project on “Production, R&D and knowledge offshoring: Economic analyses and policy implications”). Jimenez gratefully acknowledges financial support from Caja de Burgos. Research for this paper was partly carried out while Jimenez was a visiting scholar at the University of Perugia, and Castellani was visiting at Rutgers Business School. The authors thank those institutions for their hospitality.


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Copyright information

© Academy of International Business 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Davide Castellani
    • 1
  • Alfredo Jimenez
    • 2
  • Antonello Zanfei
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsFinance and Statistics, University of PerugiaPerugiaItaly
  2. 2.Department of Business AdministrationUniversity of BurgosBurgosSpain
  3. 3.Department of EconomicsSociety and Politics, University of UrbinoUrbinoItaly

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