Open innovation


European Journal of Innovation Management

ISSN: 1460-1060

Article publication date: 4 October 2011



Carlsson, S. and Corvello, V. (2011), "Open innovation", European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 14 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Open innovation

Article Type: Guest editorial From: European Journal of Innovation Management, Volume 14, Issue 4

Few themes in innovation management research have received more attention during the last years than Open Innovation. Henry Cheesbrough’s powerful intuition that the knowledge flows underlying innovation processes, which transcend a single firm’s boundaries, needed to be studied as a single phenomenon (Chesbrough, 2003) has fascinated researchers and practitioners. After the publication of his book, the scientific papers addressing this issue have multiplied.

As it often happens in management research, this first period has been characterized by much enthusiasm, some criticism, and some confusion.

Open Innovation enthusiasts, claim the potentially revolutionary nature of the approach, which would both increase the innovative capacity of organizations, in particular by exploiting external sources of creativity and knowledge (Carlsson et al., 2009), and increase returns on the produced innovation, by exploiting external opportunities for the commercialization of innovative products and services (Lichtenthaler and Ernst, 2007).

Open Innovation critics, instead, point out that neither the external sourcing of knowledge, nor the external commercialization of innovation are new ideas (Christensen et al., 2005). Besides many phenomena, sometimes very different from each other, tend to be labeled Open Innovation adding confusion to the debate: for example joint research projects, industry-university collaborations, user lead innovation, crowdsourcing.

After eight years of research, there is the need to clarify what are the nature and extent of the Open Innovation phenomenon. Both theoretical reflection and empirical studies are needed to understand what Open Innovation exactly is in the daily practice of organizations and how it impacts on, their functioning, and performance.

In particular the following questions are still unanswered: is there only one approach to open innovation or is there a variety of more or less open approaches to innovation? What are the options for an organization to strategically exploit Open Innovation? Is Open Innovation a widespread phenomenon or does it involve only a small number of large organizations? Does it significantly influence an organization’s performance? What are the challenges faced by Open Innovation managers?

The objective of this special issue of the European Journal of Innovation Management is to contribute to answering these questions. The six papers included in this issue were selected among 42 submitted works with an overall acceptance rate of about 15 per cent. The selection process went through two phases. During the first phase, 20 papers were selected by the guest editors on the basis of their scientific quality and of their coherence with the objectives of the special issue. During the second phase, each of these 20 papers was blind reviewed by two anonymous reviewers. The authors of papers that, according to the reviewers, deserved publication were invited to submit, a revised version. All the papers submitted in revised version were high quality papers. It was not easy for the guest editors to make a final decision, but in the end the six papers presented here were judged to be the most original and interesting ones.

The opening paper “Firm-specific factors and the openness degree: a survey of Italian firms”, by Valentina Lazzarotti, Raffaella Manzini and Luisa Pellegrini, addresses the issue of the variety of possible approaches to Open Innovation. According to the authors a continuum of choices exist which can be ordered along two dimensions: partner variety, that is the number of partners a company interacts with, and phases variety, that is the number of phases in a company’s innovation process which are open to collaboration with external actors. Using their framework they carried out a cluster analysis on a sample of about 100 Italian firms and found that four main strategies exist: open innovators, closed innovators, integrated collaborators, and specialized collaborators.

Also the second paper “Separating the wheat from the chaff – a taxonomy of open innovation”, by Vanessa Duarte and Soumodip Sarkar, analyzes the possible approaches to Open Innovation, but using a very different method. The two authors selected open innovation case studies from the literature and analyzed them applying numerical taxonomy. This original method provides a systematic classification of Open Innovation approaches. In particular two general strategies have been singled out in this study: the first is characterized by the involvement of a large number of partners and by “democratic” participation, the second one is more formal and implies a more accurate selection of the partners.

The paper by Antero Kutvonen, “Strategic application of outbound open innovation”, focuses on the external commercialization of innovation. The author reviews the literature on outbound Open Innovation and singles out six possible strategic objectives that a firm adopting this approach might pursue besides monetary benefits: gaining access to new knowledge, multiplication of own technologies, learning from knowledge transfer, controlling technological trajectories, external exploitation as a core business model and exerting control over the market environment. Several case examples are provided to explain the six strategies.

The fourth paper “Open innovation modes and the role of internal R&D: an empirical study of open innovation adoption in Europe”, by Alexander Schroll and Andreas Mild focuses on the diffusion of both inbound and outbound open innovation among European firms. They collected data from 180 companies. Schroll and Mild also investigated the relation between the adoption of open innovation strategies and the role of internal R&D. They found that inbound open innovation is relatively more diffuse than outbound open innovation and that generally open innovation is a complement to internal R&D.

The fifth paper, “The impact of outside-in open innovation on innovation performance”, by Matthias Inauen and Andrea Schenker-Wicki, studies the impact of inbound open innovation on performance. In particular, the authors consider the effect of the intensity of collaboration with different stakeholders (e.g. customers, suppliers, cross-sector companies) on the number of product and process innovations and on the percentage of sales of newly developed products. The authors use survey data from 141 stock-listed companies in German speaking countries. They found that openness towards customers, suppliers, and universities has a significant positive effect on all the performance measures. Openness towards cross-sector companies, instead, has significant negative effects.

The sixth and final paper, “Paradoxical tensions in open innovation networks”, by Sirkka L. Jarvenpaa and Alina Wernick, applies the paradox management perspective to open innovation networks. According to the authors, the management of paradoxical tensions within open innovation networks is more complex than in closed innovation processes. The paper is based on a study of four open innovation networks created with the support of a governmental program in Finland. The authors’ analysis of data from 85 interviews with enterprises, research institutions and funding agencies obtained a grounded description of the most common paradoxical tensions in open innovation networks and of the approaches managers adopted to address them. The authors’ findings are relevant to the discussion on the new competences and capabilities managers need to develop in an open innovation context.

Taken together the six papers collected in this special issue advance our understanding of Open Innovation in two ways:

  1. 1.

    They contribute to consolidate our knowledge on the topic by providing rigorous studies in most cases based on large pools of data.

  2. 2.

    From the point of view of content, they enrich our knowledge by providing a more articulated picture of the Open Innovation phenomenon and provide a first answer to the research questions cited previously.

With reference to the first point, the need to consolidate scientific knowledge on Open Innovation has been signaled by several authors (e.g. Gassmann et al., 2010; Huizingh, 2011). Research on Open Innovation is moving from its initial stage to a stage of consolidation. As with other new concepts, in the first phase, studies tend to be of an exploratory and qualitative nature. Case studies abound, but few surveys are available. As the pioneering phase draws-to-a-close, qualitative and exploratory research has to be coupled with more quantitative and explanatory studies. Responding to this need, this special issue provides a balanced mix of qualitative and quantitative studies, most of them based on relatively large samples. In particular, the papers by Lazzarotti and colleagues, Schroll and Mild, and Inauen and Schenker-Wicki provide data attesting to the diffusion of open innovation practices in several European countries. Besides, the study by Inauen and Schenker-Wicki provides evidence of the fact that some open innovation practices (in particular sourcing of knowledge from customers, suppliers and universities) positively affect performance. Working on secondary data both the paper by Duarte and Sarkar and the paper by Kutvonen refine the concept of Open Innovation, systematically and rigorously organizing previous literature on the topic.

From the point of view of content, the six papers of the Special Issue draw a complex picture of the Open Innovation phenomenon. The openness of innovation processes varies significantly from organization to organization. Both if we consider the number, the variety, or the strength of external links, different firms are likely to have a different openness degree. The papers by Lanzarotti and colleagues, Duarte and Sarkar, and Inauen and Schenker-Wicki all support this claim. As discussed by Kutvonen, open innovation approaches can be undertaken for different reasons. Besides, both the studies by Schroll and Mild and by Lanzarotti and colleagues point out that Open Innovation is a complement and not a substitute of Internal R&D.

These results can be interpreted by considering Open Innovation as the answer of organizations to the increased complexity of both the external environment and of internal innovative dynamics. Open Innovation does not consist in new and easier ways to do old things. Organizations did not substitute internal R&D with cheap and ready to use sources of innovation available in the external environment, maybe on the internet. On the contrary, the higher competitive pressure and the need to create more complex products, more efficiently and at a faster pace, has obliged organizations to multiply the sources of knowledge, make the innovation funnel more efficient and find new ways to make internal knowledge productive. As a consequence innovation management within organizations has become a bundle of processes which start and finish outside the firm and intertwine with each other and with internal R&D activities. The role of the management is to accept and master this complexity. In this scenario, the paper by Jarvenpaa and Wernick is especially interesting, because it provides theoretical tools and empirical data, which help us to understand the paradoxical challenges faced by managers in an Open Innovation context.

Future research on Open Innovation will probably be more and more characterized by quantitative studies based on large samples of data. As our knowledge of Open Innovation processes will become more fine-grained, there will also be the need for researchers to specialize on specific sub-themes. Future studies will need to test the relation between specific external and internal organizational factors on the one hand and strength and variety of external links on the other. This does not mean that qualitative research is not useful. On the contrary, the complexity of the interdependences between different processes in an open innovation approach calls for in depth case studies. For example qualitative research is still needed to investigate themes like: the interdependence between inbound and outbound open innovation processes; management practices to effectively integrate internal R&D and external sourcing of knowledge; practices for the integrated management of different sources of knowledge; practices for the integrated management of different commercialization channels.

Overall, the six papers included in this special issue contribute to our knowledge of Open Innovation by providing both theoretical insight and empirical evidence. Open Innovation appears to be a complex and manifold phenomenon, but also an approach able to stimulate theory with remarkable explanatory power as well as well-grounded practical implications.

As editors, we would like to thank the authors of the papers for their high quality contributions, the reviewers for contributing with their expertise to the development of this special issue and the Editor-in-Chief Professor Christos Kalantaridis for his support throughout the editorial process.

Sven Carlsson, Vincenzo Corvello


Carlsson, S.A., Corvello, V. and Migliarese, P. (2009), “Enabling open innovation: proposal of a framework supporting ICT and KMS implementation in web-based intermediaries”, Proceedings of the 17th European Conference on Information Systems, Verona, June 8-10

Chesbrough, H.W. (2003), Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA

Christensen, J.F., Olesen, M.H. and Kjaer, J.S. (2005), “The industrial dynamics of open innovation – evidence from the transformation of consumer electronics”, Research Policy, Vol. 34, pp. 1533–49

Gassmann, O., Enkel, E. and Chesbrough, H. (2010), “The future of open innovation”, R&D Management, Vol. 40 No. 3, pp. 213–21

Huizingh, E.K.R.E. (2011), “Open innovation: state-of-the-art and future perspectives”, Technovation, Vol. 31, pp. 2–9

Lichtenthaler, U. and Ernst, H. (2007), “External technology commercialization in large firms: results of a quantitative benchmarking study”, R&D Management, Vol. 37 No. 5, pp. 383–97

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