The generation and flow of knowledge in technology development
Jung, Hyun Ju
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Scholars in strategy, economics, and sociology of science and technology have studied technology development as a source of firms’ economic gains as well as institutional changes. Drawing on the extant research of technology and innovation strategy, I investigate the problem of knowledge generation and flows in technology development. Specifically, I explore how firms generate novel technology and develop technological breakthroughs; how knowledge flows between firms affect interfirm cooperation in a knowledge network; and how science and technology programs impact the institutions of knowledge production. In Essay 1 (Chapter 2), I examine the antecedents of knowledge recombination and technological breakthroughs. Conceptualizing a firm’s exploration as a combinatory search of prior new-recombination (an original technology component), I investigate the impacts of prior new-recombination and search boundary (local vs. boundary-spanning) on the characteristics of focal invention. In particular, I theorize and juxtapose the contrasting effects of the boundary of technological search of prior new-recombination on the propensities that the focal invention generates new recombination and becomes a technological breakthrough. Specifically, I hypothesize that, when the technological search involves new recombination in prior inventions, 1) the likelihood of generating new recombination in the focal invention is greatest for a boundary spanning search, smallest for a local search, and intermediate for a hybrid search (which involves both types of search); but 2) the likelihood for the focal invention to become a technological breakthrough is greatest for a local search, smallest for a boundary spanning search, and intermediate for a hybrid search. I find supporting evidence from the analysis of U.S. nanotechnology patents granted between 1980 and 2006. The purpose of Essay 2 (Chapter 3) is to determine the effect of knowledge flows on the formation of interfirm cooperation. By distinguishing codified knowledge flows from tacit knowledge flows, this paper demonstrates that antecedents of interfirm cooperation lie in codified knowledge flows that precede interfirm cooperation. Two properties of asymmetry in directional codified knowledge flows, intensity and uncertainty, underpin this paper’s arguments and empirical tests. The main finding in this study is that intense codified knowledge flows weaken the formation of interfirm cooperation. By mapping dyadic firms to a center and a periphery firm within a knowledge network, I theorize that the uncertainty of directional codified knowledge flows induces the center and the periphery firms to pursue interfirm cooperation differently. The results show that while uncertainty caused by distant technology components in knowledge flows hinders a center firm from pursuing interfirm cooperation, uncertainty stimulates a periphery firm to pursue interfirm cooperation. A statistical analysis performed on a sample of enterprise software firms between 1992 and 2009 supports the hypotheses of this paper. In Essay 3 (Chapter 4), I examine how the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), a most recent U.S. government’s science and technology (S&T) program launched in 2000, impacts the nature of university research in nanotechnology. I characterize the NNI as a policy intervention that targets the commercialization of technology and a focused research direction to promote national economic growth. As such, I expect that the NNI has brought about unintended consequences in terms of the direction of university-industry knowledge flows and the characteristics of university research output in nanotechnology. Using the difference-in-differences analysis of the U.S. nanotechnology patents filed between 1996 and 2007, I find that, for the U.S. universities, the NNI has increased knowledge inflows from the industry, diminished the branching-out to novel technologies, reduced the research scope, and decreased the likelihood of technological breakthroughs, as compared to other U.S. and non-U.S. research institutions. The findings suggest that, at least in the case of the NNI, targeted S&T programs of the government may increase the efficiency of university research, but potentially do so at a considerable price.