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Keywords:

  • technology sourcing;
  • absorptive capacity;
  • technological change;
  • biotechnology

Abstract

This paper argues that when the technological basis of an industry is changing, the firm's approach to technology sourcing plays a critical role in building the capabilities needed to generate new technical outputs. Using survey and archival data from the U.S. pharmaceutical industry during the period 1981–91, we find that different approaches to technology sourcing (internal R&D and external R&D) are related to different types of biotechnology-based output at the end of the period. Internal R&D was positively associated with patent output. Acquisition activity was positively related to number of biotechnology-based products. Greater use of R&D contracts and licenses was associated with stronger reputation for possessing expertise in biotechnology. These findings underscore the importance of taking a multifaceted approach to technology sourcing in order to build the absorptive capacity needed to generate new technical output. Surprisingly, we also found that involvement in joint ventures was negatively related to patent output. This raises interesting questions about the strategic use of joint ventures in a regime of encompassing technological change. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.