The topic of corporate involvement in science has been extensively researched in the innovation literature. However, there is no consensus on whether the trend is on the rise or decline, as various studies have reported contradictory findings. This research aims to bridge this gap by analysing the scientific publication activity over time of a large multi-country and multi-sector sample of firms. The findings of the study indicate that corporate science has grown in the period from 2011 to 2015. However, this growth has only been in absolute terms, as the overall growth of publications in science has been greater. The study also found significant variations in corporate science activity across different sectors. It is important to note, however, that the results may be highly sensitive to the methodological choices, which makes it difficult to compare findings from different studies or make definitive conclusions about the phenomenon.
Roberto Camerani*, Nicola Grassano** and Daniele Rotolo***
SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit), University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
Loyola University, Sevilla, Spain
SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit), University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
Department of Mechanics, Mathematics and Management, Polytechnic University of Bari, Italy
The topic of corporate involvement in science has been extensively researched in the innovation literature. However, there is no consensus on whether corporate science is on the rise or decline, as various studies have reported contradictory findings. This research aims to bridge this gap by longitudinally analysing the scientific publication activity of a large multi-country and multi-sector sample of firms. Preliminary findings indicate that corporate science has grown in the period from 2011 to 2015. However, this growth has only been in ‘absolute terms’, as the overall growth of publications in science has been greater. We also found significant variations in corporate science activity across different sectors. It is, however, important to note that results about corporate science may be highly sensitive to methodological choices, which makes it difficult to compare findings from different studies or make definitive conclusions about the phenomenon.
Corporate science has been the subject of numerous studies, with many of them relying on corporate publishing as a measure of firms’ engagement in the production of science (Rotolo et al., 2022). Basic research has been a particular focus, and while some studies have shown a rise in corporate science over time (e.g. Godin, 1996; Archambault and Larivière, 2011), others have indicated a decline (e.g. Rafols et al., 2014; Arora et al., 2018) . However, these studies are challenging to compare due to differences in their methodologies, and sectoral and geographic coverage. Additionally, the focus of the literature is also unbalanced in favour of most science-based sectors such as pharmaceuticals or chemicals, and only a few studies have used multi-country and multi-sector samples. Rotolo et al. (2022) argued that there is currently no systematic understanding of whether corporate publishing is growing or declining. We address this gap by studying corporate science using an original comprehensive multi-sector multi-country dataset on firm publishing.
Scientific publications are often considered a proxy of firms’ investment in basic research. In this vein, research on firm publishing has also paid considerable attention to how the involvement of firms in publishing has changed. These efforts have revealed an evolving pattern. Earlier studies characterised firm publishing as a growing phenomenon. For instance, Halperin and Chakrabarti (1987) observed an increase of about 47% of the number of publications (co)authored by a sample of US firm in 1975-1983. The sample included 225 firms that invested at least $1 million or 1% of sales in R&D. In a subsequent study, Godin (1996) estimated growth at 21% and attributed the difference with Halperin and Chakrabarti’s (1987) findings to the sampling strategy – Godin’s (1996) sample included only patenting firms. Archambault and Larivière (2011) found an increasing number of Canadian firms contributing to scientific publications from 1980 to 2005 with an annual growth of 4.2%. This growth was also reflected in the total number of Canadian firms’ publications that increased by 2.7% on an annual basis in the same period.
Studies examining firm publishing on a larger scale have depicted an opposite trend. Tijessen (2004) found that the number of publications co-authored by private actors reduced from 7% in 1996 to 5.6% in 2001, thus representing a decline of about 12%. Larivière et al. (2018) reported a similar trend in the 1980-2014 period and pointed out that the share of publications co-authored by industrial actors has declined together with the shares of publications co-authored by other types of organisations, while the global publication production is increasingly “monopolized” by universities. Arora et al. (2018) also observed a declining involvement of US firms in the production of scientific publications from 1980 to 2016 and interpreted this as a signal of firms investing less in in-house research while increasingly relying on research conducted by public institutions.
These studies provide insights into the overall trend of firm publishing and converge on characterising this phenomenon first as growing and then as declining. Firm publishing in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors broadly reflects this pattern. On the one hand, Katz and Hicks (1996) observed a substantial increase in the number of publications produced by a sample of 21 European and Japanese firms in the pharmaceutical and chemical-pharmaceutical sectors in 1980-1989. On the other hand, Rafols et al. (2014) observed a declining production of scientific publications by major pharmaceutical R&D labs in Europe and US in 1995-2009 and an increasing share of publications co-authored with other organisations, thus suggesting a rising externalisation of R&D activities in line with the argument presented by studies examining the phenomenon across industries (Arora et al., 2018; Lariviere et al., 2018). But examining the overall patterns of firm publishing tends to overlook the heterogeneity of firm publishing across sectors. In this regard, a stream of recent sector-specific studies has observed growth in a number of sectors and emerging research fields: semiconductor industry (Pellens and Della Malva, 2018), defence industry (Sachini et al., 2022), research on genetically modified maize (Liu et al., 2020), and research in artificial intelligence (Hartmann and Henkel, 2020). Growth is also observed in terms of number of firms that are actively involved in publishing. Simeth and Raffo (2013) identified a large number of sectors (13 out of 20) where the proportion of French firms contributing to scientific publications has increased from 1999-2001 to 2005-2007; whilst a declining proportion of publishing firms is observed in sectors such as chemicals and pharmaceuticals, rubber and plastics, and office machines.
In summary, we argue that understanding the growth and/or decline of firm publishing remains an open issue as emerging patters of firm publishing in sectors different from the pharmaceuticals and biotechnology have been relatively neglected. In addition, it is true that extant research aligns with the recent overall decline of firm publishing, but it remains unclear how these analyses are sensitive to methodological choices and associated assumptions (e.g. fractional and full counting of publications) and changing coverage of major publication databases. Our study will contribute to this debate by examining growth across a variety of sectors and accounting for the changing coverage of the publication database on which we build our empirical analysis.
We present below the methodology and the data collection process we relied on to perform an empirical analysis aimed at examining how does firms’ engagement in publishing has changed over time.
We examine the publication activity of the 2,500 firms worldwide that were most active in terms of R&D investment in 2013. These firms were drawn from the 2014 EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard (henceforth, the Scoreboard), a rank of the most active firms in terms of R&D that is published by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission on a yearly basis since 2004. We focused the analysis on these firms for several reasons. First, although the firm sample does not include relatively less R&D-active firms, 90% of global private R&D investment in 2013 can be attributed to firms included in the Scoreboard. Second, we could access the complete list of subsidiaries owned by these firms. These data, which were provided by Bureau van Dijk’s ORBIS to the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, included names and geographical locations of 569,919 subsidiaries owned by firms included in the Scoreboard. Finally, the firm sample provides relatively comprehensive coverage of sectors. Firms are classified into 40 sectors according to the Industry Classification Benchmark (ICB) at 3-digit level. For the purpose of the analysis, we aggregated sectors with a relatively low number of firms into 20 ‘macro’ sectors.
To identify publications authored by industrial researchers based at the firms and subsidiaries in our sample, we matched firm and subsidiary names with organization names reported in authors’ affiliation addresses in publication records. Given the lack of standardized organization names in publication data, our empirical strategy involved a number of steps. We first harmonized and cleaned firm and subsidiary names to ensure that the recall of our queries was not affected by incomplete or misspelled organization names. To do so, we first identified acronyms and variations of parent firm names. For example, “Dutch State Mines”, “Koninklijke DSM”, “Royal DSM” and “DSM” were found as name variations for the parent firm “Koninklijke DSM NV”. A desktop search enabled us to identify 1,384 name variations for 1,084 parent firms (about 43% of the sample). We then excluded all subsidiaries whose names included their parent firm names (including acronyms and variations). Publications co-authored by researchers employed at these subsidiaries (e.g. “Continental Tires Canada”) are automatically retrieved when searching for their parent firms’ publications (e.g. “Continental”). Symbols, punctuation marks, double spaces, business entity abbreviations (e.g. “Ltd”, “Inc”, “GmbH”), and country names (e.g. “Abbvie Spain” was revised as “Abbvie”) were also removed from subsidiary names by using regular expressions. All the cases of subsidiary names where our regular expressions were too ‘aggressive’ (e.g. “SCA” is a subsidiary name, “Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget”, but also a French business entity abbreviation, “Sociètè en Commandite par Actions”) were manually revised. This cleaning process also enabled us to ‘flag’ subsidiaries with common names (e.g. “plant” or “computer systems”), so to facilitate the subsequent cleaning of false positive publication records – i.e. publication records that are identified by a query as publications that are authored by researchers employed at a given firm or subsidiary even though these do not involve researchers of the firm or subsidiaries in the list of authors.
We then built a query for each parent firm. Each query included a parent firm’s name, its name variations, and associated subsidiary names. We searched for these organization names in the “AD” field (authors’ affiliation address) of the WoS Core Collection, limiting our search to the 2011–2015 period. Given that most of the parent firms in our sample are multinationals, we searched for parent firm names with no country constraints. Subsidiaries were instead searched in authors’ affiliation addresses together with the information about the countries in which these were located.
Queries returned an initial sample of more than 1.2 million publication-firm observations. Given that our queries aimed at maximizing recall, this initial sample included a considerable number of false positive publication records. To remove these, we first used regular expressions to exclude publication records involving only authors from academic institutions (e.g. universities, hospitals, schools) or records that our queries captured because subsidiary names were equal to the names of cities as reported in authors’ affiliation addresses. This enabled us to exclude 681,896 false positive publication-firm records, i.e. about 54% of the initial sample of 1,273,481 publication-firm records. The remaining sample was manually checked by a team of research assistants, who identified an additional set of 248,723 false positive publication-firm records, i.e. about 20% of the initial sample publication-firm records. This process led to a final sample of 342,152 publication-firm observations or 314,411 unique publication records from 2011 to 2015. In the next section, we analyse these data to characterize corporate publishing across our 20 industrial sectors.
The number of publications to which our firms contributed from 2011 to 2015 (i.e. 314,411 publications) is comparable with the total publication output of French academic institutions (about 357,000 publications) in the same observation period. About 84% of the firms in the sample contributed to at least one publication during the observation period. The sector with the lowest proportion of publishing firms is Software & Computer Services, where 58.6% of firms contributed to at least one publication. This proportion is above 90% for seven sectors: Oil & Gas, Alternative Energy (100%), Utilities (100%), Pharmaceuticals & Biotechnology (about 99%), Health Care Equipment & Services (about 97%), Chemicals (about 96%), Aerospace & Defence (about 96%), and Food & Beverage (about 93%).
Publishing firms contributed, on average, to 164 publications – when non-publishing firms are also considered, the average reduces to 137 publications. The distribution is, however, highly skewed. About 7% of the publishing firms in the sample contributed to just one publication, while the top-1% publishing firms contributed to 107,713 publications (about 34%). The box-plot chart in Figure 1 depicts the distribution publishing firm-number of publications by sector. The sector with the highest median value is Oil & Gas, Alternative, Energy (82), followed by Utilities (62), Basic Resources (54), Food & Beverage (53), Aerospace & Defence (52), and Pharmaceuticals & Biotechnology (50).
Our data suggest that the number of publications involving firms in our sample grew by 9.4% from 2011 to 2015, corresponding to a yearly growth rate of 2.3%.14 We made some robustness checks to account for the extent to which this trend may be a result of the continuous expansion of the coverage of WoS. When the analysis is restricted to the subset of journals that were indexed in WoS both in 2011 and 2015, we observed similar growth rates (8.0% from 2011 to 2015 and of 1.9% on a yearly basis). In addition, there is evidence of growth (6.9% from 2011 to 2015 and 1.7% on a yearly basis) even when the analysis is restricted to the subset of journals in which firms in our sample published in 2011 or 2015.
Figure 1: Box-plot of the number of publications per firm (2011-2015). Firms that contributed to at least one publication are considered. Vertical lines inside the boxes represent median values, boxes the interquartile range (IQR), and horizontal whiskers extend +-1.5 IQR outside the box. Circles represent 2,088 publishing firms. Source: Authors' elaboration.
The magnitude of the phenomenon of corporate publishing has therefore grown in absolute terms. However, the number of publications co-authored by our firms out of the whole set of records indexed in WoS has declined from 2.6% in 2011 to 2.3% in 2015. The number of records in WoS has grown by about 5.6% from 2011 to 2015 on a yearly basis, while we observed a growth of 2.3% for our sample of firms.
At the level of the sector, we observed both growing and declining trends in corporate publishing (see Table 1). For some sectors, the number of publications involving our firms grew by more than 5% on a yearly basis. These include Construction & Materials (10.9%), Consumer Services (10.9%), Oil & Gas, Alternative Energy (8.4%), Financials (8.3%), Industrial Engineering (6.4%), and Automobiles & Parts (5.5%). For a few sectors, we instead observed a decline of less than 2% on a yearly basis. These include Chemicals (-1.2%), Support Services (-1.2%), Personal & Household Goods (-1.4%), and Food & Beverage (-1.7%). It is worth noting that those sectors characterized by the highest growth rates are among the sectors characterized by the lowest publication intensity, thus suggesting the presence of some sort of ‘catching up process’ for these sectors.
Table 1. Publication number and growth by sector.
|Sector||Publications||Annual growth (CAGR, %)||Overall growth (2011-2015)|
|Aerospace & Defence||10,525||4.7||20.0|
|Automobiles & Parts||12,196||5.5||23.9|
|Construction & Materials||2,702||10.9||51.2|
|Electronic & Electrical Equipment||24,322||0.4||1.5|
|Food & Beverage||7,629||-1.7||-6.6|
|Health Care Equipment & Services||16,065||4.3||18.3|
|Oil & Gas, Alternative Energy||12,275||8.4||38.0|
|Personal & Household Goods||6,317||-1.4||-5.5|
|Pharmaceuticals & Biotechnology||114,792||2.3||9.4|
|Software & Computer Services||22,979||1.1||4.3|
|Technology Hardware & Equipment||29,829||3.9||16.5|
This study addresses the debate about whether corporate science has increased or decreased over time by examining the publication activity of a large sample of corporates. To overcome the limitations of existing studies, which vary greatly in methodology, geographical, and sector coverage, this study used a sample that includes corporates from multiple countries and sectors. Preliminary findings suggest that corporate science has grown between 2011 and 2015, although this growth was only in absolute terms, as the overall growth of scientific publications was even greater. The study also identified significant variations in corporate science activity across different sectors.
In conclusion, this study contributes to the ongoing debate on the trend of corporate science and shows that a comprehensive, multi-sector, and multi-country approach is necessary to understand the current state of corporate science. It is, however, important to note that the results may be highly sensitive to methodological choices, which makes it difficult to compare findings from different studies or make definitive conclusions about the phenomenon.
Open science practices
The data used in this study has been obtained from a proprietary database and cannot be made available. The methodology employed to match publication authors with firm names (including the search query, the business entities database, and the routines to clean the data) can be made available on request.
All authors have equally contributed to the production of this document.
The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.
The authors acknowledge the support of the IRITEC project, Unit B3 - Directorate B-JRC, European Commission.
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