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      Patterns of knowledge use in ‘low-tech’ industries

      Pluto Journals


            The innovativeness of low- and medium-technology (LMT) manufacturing firms in advanced economies has been the research focus of a growing body of literature since the beginning of the last decade. This paper reviews the main research findings and highlights the largely unresolved problem in LMT research of the contradiction between the presumed homogeneity of LMT sectors because of the formal category of ‘low R&D intensity’, and the heterogeneity of the same firms in LMT sectors. To overcome this problem, the paper proposes an empirical taxonomy of innovative LMT firms based on the dimension of knowledge. To sketch out this knowledge-oriented taxonomy, the paper uses the concept of the ‘distributed knowledge base’. In this approach, four different patterns of knowledge use in LMT firms can be identified. This conceptual perspective has consequences for understanding the sources and directions of innovation strategies in LMT firms and the perspectives of LMT sectors pertaining in advanced economies, such as the EU. Additionally, specific recommendations on innovation policy can be inferred from these considerations that go beyond the current state of the art. Overall, this paper sums up some of the findings of past low-tech research, and reinterprets its central findings.


            Author and article information

            Pluto Journals
            1 March 2015
            : 33
            : 1 ( doiID: 10.1080/prometheus.33.issue-1 )
            : 67-82
            Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, TU Dortmund University, Dortmund, Germany
            © 2015 Pluto Journals

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            Computer science,Arts,Social & Behavioral Sciences,Law,History,Economics


            1. Milestones in the field of LMT research are the EU-funded FP 5 project Policy and Innovation in Lowtech – PILOT, running from 2003 to 2006 (Hirsch-Kreinsen et al., 2006) and the special issue of Research Policy on innovation in low- and medium-technology industries (Robertson et al., 2009).

            2. This percentage varies greatly among countries. Most eastern and southern European countries (e.g. Bulgaria and Poland) have a very high proportion of such enterprises. In many northern and western European countries (e.g. France, Netherlands, Sweden), this percentage is much lower. In Germany, around 48% of innovating companies have no in-house R&D capacities (Rammer et al., 2010, p.80).

            3. How to deal with multi-product and multi-technology firms which include high-tech as well as low-tech areas remains a problem. Large companies are likely to follow a variety of technological trajectories, another reason why sectoral classification can be very difficult (Archibugi, 2001).

            4. This methodological approach – making new discoveries in a logical and ordered way, following neither a theoretically-grounded deductive approach nor an exclusively empirically-based inductive approach – is known as ‘abduction’ (Reichertz, 2009).

            5. This pattern has similarities to Pavitt's sectoral pattern of technological change. What Pavitt calls ‘supplier-dominated’ firms are found mainly in traditional sectors of manufacturing (Pavitt, 1984, p.356).


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