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R&D by US multinationals in China: geography and patterns of co-invention

Irina Ervits (CBS Cologne Business School GmbH, Koeln, Germany)

International Journal of Emerging Markets

ISSN: 1746-8809

Article publication date: 13 July 2020



This paper addresses the geographical dimension of cross-border knowledge integration, expressed as the co-invention of patent filings and investigates the siting of patenting activities by major US corporations in China. Most importantly, the study looks into the patterns of international co-invention or the links of these locations to headquarters and other company subsidiaries.


The study explores the cases of six US multinationals that file international patent applications in China. The applications were analyzed based on the composition of invention teams and the locations of inventors.


The co-invented patent filings by US multinational enterprises (MNEs) in China demonstrate a high degree of US–Chinese subsidiary collaboration. Links with other subsidiaries are marginal, and at the same time, high levels of sole patenting by inventors in China point to competence-creating research and development (R&D) activities taking place.

Practical implications

The lack of subsidiary-subsidiary collaboration, especially subsidiaries in other emerging markets, indicates a less diversified strategy of leveraging internal networks of knowledge. This also implies that Chinese subsidiaries still lack attractiveness as partners in subsidiary-subsidiary co-invention. Only two companies in our sample, Procter & Gamble and Intel, demonstrate a highly diversified, integrated and transnational pattern of innovation management.


The paper contributes to the contextual understanding of the rich landscape of R&D activities of major US MNEs in China. By exploring these cases, the paper identifies a number of trends. First, the R&D activities in this sample are highly concentrated in technological clusters located in Beijing and Shanghai. Technological clustering is an important advantage of the innovation landscape in emerging markets. Second, the paper underscores the importance of differentiating between different types of co-invention. The patent applications in this sample tend to unite inventors mostly from the US and China, and so multi-country applications involving subsidiaries in other countries are rare. Thus, the level of integration outside the center-host bandwidth is low. However, Chinese subsidiaries demonstrate high levels of autonomy by filing single-country applications, which implies that they are building their own research identity.



The authors would like to thank anonymous reviewers for the sympathetic reading of this manuscript and their insightful comments and suggestions.


Ervits, I. (2020), "R&D by US multinationals in China: geography and patterns of co-invention", International Journal of Emerging Markets, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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