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Technological opportunity, imitation vs. innovation, and technological leadership change by the latecomer


Strategy and Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Entrepreneurship

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Social Sciences Research Network

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Little attention has been devoted to the question of how late movers overcome first-mover advantage and catch up with incumbents. We examine the role in catch-up of late movers’ optimal resource allocation between innovation and imitation. Building on Nelson and Winter’s (1982) technology learning and competition model, we develop computational models of late movers’ R&D allocation strategy and technological leadership change. The results suggest that one-sided dependency upon either imitation or innovation deters technological leadership change by late movers in the long run, since the leading firms are moving targets. Furthermore, when a late mover’s technology level is low, the late mover should focus on imitation and build technological capabilities and absorptive capacity; then, as the technological gap decreases, the late mover should allocate more R&D resources to innovation and attempt technological leapfrogging. This transition from imitation to innovation plays a critical role in catch-up. We also test our models including a range of technological environment variables such as appropriability, cumulativeness, and technological opportunity. Our model shows that our original findings are resilient across a wide range of technological environment variables.


Imitation; Innovation; Technological catch-up; Technological leadership change; Technological environment

Available on ECCH


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