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Isolation and Innovation – Two Contradictory Concepts? Explorative Findings from the German Laser Industry

We apply a network perspective and study the emergence of core-periphery (CP) structures in innovation networks to shed some light on the relationship between isolation and innovation. It has been frequently argued that a firm’s location in a densely interconnected network area improves its ability to access information and absorb technological knowledge. This, in turn, enables a firm to generate new products and services at a higher rate compared to less integrated competitors. However, the importance of peripheral positions for innovation processes is still a widely neglected issue in literature. Isolation may provide unique conditions that induce innovations which otherwise may never have been invented. Such innovations have the potential to lay the ground for a firm’s pathway towards the network core, where the industry’s established technological knowledge is assumed to be located. The aim of our paper is twofold. Firstly, we propose a new CP indicator and apply it to analyze the emergence of CP patterns in the German laser industry. We employ publicly funded Research and Development (R&D) cooperation project data over a period of more than two decades. Secondly, we explore the paths on which firms move from isolated positions towards the core (and vice versa). Our exploratory results open up a number of new research questions at the intersection between geography, economics and network research.

13. January 2015

Authors Wilfried Ehrenfeld T. Pusch Muhamed Kudic

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