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Local Nodes in Global Networks: The Geography of Knowledge Flows in Biotechnology Innovation

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The literature on innovation and interactive learning has tended to emphasize the importance of local networks, inter-firm collaboration and knowledge flows as the principal source of technological dynamism. More recently, however, this view has come to be challenged by other perspectives that argue for the importance of non-local knowledge flows. According to this alternative approach, truly dynamic economic regions are characterized both by dense local social interaction and knowledge circulation, as well as strong inter-regional and international connections to outside knowledge sources and partners. This paper offers an empirical examination of these issues by examining the geography of knowledge flows associated with innovation in biotechnology. We begin by reviewing the growing literature on the nature and geography of innovation in biotechnology research and the commercialization process. Then, focusing on the Canadian biotech industry, we examine the determinants of innovation (measured through patenting activity), paying particular attention to internal resources and capabilities of the firm, as well as local and global flows of knowledge and capital. Our study is based on the analysis of Statistics Canada’s 1999 Survey of Biotechnology Use and Development, which covers 358 core biotechnology firms. Our findings highlight the importance of in-house technological capability and absorptive capacity as determinants of successful innovation in biotechnology firms. Furthermore, our results document the precise ways in which knowledge circulates, in both embodied and disembodied forms, both locally and globally. We also highlight the role of formal intellectual property transactions (domestic and international) in promoting knowledge flows. Although we document the importance of global networks in our findings, our results also reveal the value of local networks and specific forms of embedding. Local relational linkages are especially important when raising capital—and the expertise that comes with it—to support innovation. Nevertheless, our empirical results raise some troubling questions about the alleged pre-eminence of the local in fostering innovation.

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2005-12-01

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Knowledge flows; biotechnology; buzz; inter-firm collaboration

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Required Publisher Statement: Copyright by Routledge. Final paper published as Gertler, M. S., & Levitte, Y. M. (2005). Local nodes in global networks: The geography of knowledge flows in biotechnology innovation. Industry and Innovation, 12, 487-507.

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