December 31, 2012

End to an embarrassing year for OI research

Updated January 5 based on reader feedback.

The year 2012 was a difficult one for open innovation, with the retraction of eight articles related to technology licensing by Ulrich Lichtenthaler, a leading open innovation researcher:
  1. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich & Holger Ernst (2009). “Technology licensing strategies: the interaction of process and content characteristics,” Strategic Organization, 7 (2): 183-221. DOI: 10.1177/1476127009102672 (Retracted June 2012)
  2. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2009). “The role of corporate technology strategy and patent portfolios in low-, medium- and high-technology firms,” Research Policy, 38 (3): 559-569. DOI: 10.1016/j.respol.2008.10.009 (Retracted July 2012)
  3. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2010). “Determinants of proactive and reactive technology licensing: A contingency perspective,” Research Policy, 39 (1): 55-66. DOI: 10.1016/j.respol.2009.11.011 (Retracted July 2012)
  4. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich & Holger Ernst (2012). “Integrated knowledge exploitation: The complementarity of product development and technology licensing,” Strategic Management Journal, 33 (5): 513-534. DOI: 10.1002/smj.1951 (Retracted August 2012)
  5. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2009). “Product business, foreign direct investment, and licensing: Examining their relationships in international technology exploitation,” Journal of World Business, 44 (4): 407-420. DOI: 10.1016/j.jwb.2009.01.003 (Retracted August 2012)
  6. Ernst, Holger, Ulrich Lichtenthaler & Carsten Vogt (2011). “The Impact of Accumulating and Reactivating Technological Experience on R & D Alliance Performance,” Journal of Management Studies, 48 (6): 1194-1216. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6486.2010.00994.x (Retracted August 2012)
  7. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich, Holger Ernst & Martin Hoegl (2010). “Not-Sold-Here: How Attitudes Influence External Knowledge Exploitation,” Organization Science, 21 (5): 1054-1071. DOI: 10.1287/orsc.1090.0499 (Retracted November 2012)
  8. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2008). “Externally commercializing technology assets: An examination of different process stages,” Journal of Business Venturing, 23 (4): 445-464. DOI: 10.1016/j.jbusvent.2007.06.002 (Retracted November 2012)
Dr. Licthenthaler has been a prolific researcher: Web of Science (the people who compile SSCI) lists 45 published articles, 42 of them from 2007-2012. Three were in A journals (AMJ, Org Sci, SMJ) and nine from the top speciality journals (ETP, ICC, JBV, JPIM and RP), although five of these 12 articles were later retracted.

Some of his work is highly cited, leaving many researchers in a quandary: if there is a relevant article, how would I know if it will be retracted in the future? As someone actively publishing, reviewing and editing OI research, for me this is not a hypothetical question. So I downloaded 43 of the 45 articles (two were not available and inter-library loan is closed for Christmas) as well as two other articles listed by Google Scholar but not Web of Science.

Six of the eight retracted articles were about the licensing practices of European firms that utilize data gathered with the assistance of the Licensing Executives Society (LES). As the earlier retracted Research Policy articles states, “We directly contacted all LES industry members in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. … 155 firms participated in the study, corresponding to a response rate of 37.6%.” (Lichtenthaler, 2009: 562). Other retracted articles mentioned 152 responses and four unretracted articles mention 154.

Twelve other Lichtenthaler articles (11 from WoS, a 12th from Google Scholar) mentioned the LES:
  1. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2007). “The drivers of technology licensing: An industry comparison,” California Management Review, 49 (4): 67-89.
  2. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich & Holger Ernst (2007). “External technology commercialization in large firms: results of a quantitative benchmarking study,” R & D Management, 37 (5): 383-397. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9310.2007.00487.x
  3. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich & Holger Ernst (2007). “Developing reputation to overcome the imperfections in the markets for knowledge,” Research Policy, 36 (1): 37-55. DOI: 10.1016/j.respol.2006.08.005
  4. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2007). “Corporate technology out-licensing: Motives and scope,” World Patent Information, 29 (2): 117-121. DOI: 10.1016/j.wpi.2006.10.001
  5. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2008). “Open innovation in practice: An analysis of strategic approaches to technology transactions,” IEEE Transactions On Engineering Management, 55 (1): 148-157. DOI: 10.1109/TEM.2007.912932
  6. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich & Holger Ernst (2008). “Intermediary services in the markets for technology: Organizational antecedents and performance consequences,” Organization Studies, 29 (7): 1003-1035. DOI: 10.1177/0170840608090531
  7. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich & Holger Ernst (2009). “The Role of Champions in the External Commercialization of Knowledge,” Journal of Product Innovation Management, 26 (4): 371-387. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5885.2009.00666.x
  8. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2009). “Outbound open innovation and its effect on firm performance: examining environmental influences,” R & D Management, 39 (4): 317-330. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9310.2009.00561.x
  9. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich & Holger Ernst (2009). “Opening up the innovation process: the role of technology aggressiveness,” R & D Management, 39 (1): 38-54. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9310.2008.00522.x
  10. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich, Eckhard Lichtenthaler & Johan Frishammar (2009). “Technology commercialization intelligence: Organizational antecedents and performance consequences,” Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 76 (3): 301-315. DOI: 10.1016/j.techfore.2008.07.002
  11. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2010). “Outward knowledge transfer: the impact of project-based organization on performance,” Industrial and Corporate Change, 19 (6): 1705-1739. DOI: 10.1093/icc/dtq041
  12. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2010). “Organizing for external technology exploitation in diversified firms,” Journal of Business Research, 63 (11): 1245-1253. DOI: 10.1016/j.jbusres.2009.11.005
The retracted Strategic Management Journal article seems to use data that overlaps the LES sample. An additional three articles seem to also use data that overlaps LES but do not mention the sample by name:
  1. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2009). “Absorptive Capacity, Environmental Turbulence, And The Complementarity Of Organizational Learning Processes,” Academy of Management Journal, 52 (4): 822-846. DOI: 10.5465/AMJ.2009.43670902
  2. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich & Johan Frishammar (2011). “The Impact of Aligning Product Development and Technology Licensing: A Contingency Perspective,” Journal of Product Innovation Management, 28 (S1): 89-103. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5885.2011.00863.x
  3. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich, Holger Ernst & James Conley (2011). “How to Develop a Successful Technology Licensing Program,” MIT Sloan Management Review, 52 (2): 17-19.
Two Three other papers said they used a similar sampling frame, but selected smaller companies than those used in the other LES studies. As Lichtenthaler, Ulrich & Miriam Muethel (2012: 197) said in their JET-M article, “To avoid overlaps with earlier empirical studies (e.g., Lichtenthaler et al., 2010), we selected companies that are ranked on ranks 201–500 of the largest firms in terms of revenues in each of the following three industries: automotive, chemicals, and electronics.” These papers are
  1. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2012). “Licensing technology to shape standards: Examining the influence of the industry context,” Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 79 (5): 851-861. DOI: 10.1016/j.techfore.2011.11.004
  2. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich & Miriam Muethel (2012). “The role of deliberate and experiential learning in developing capabilities: Insights from technology licensing,” Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 29 (2): 187-209. DOI: 10.1016/j.jengtecman.2011.10.001
  3. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich & Miriam Muethel (2012). “The Impact of Family Involvement on Dynamic Innovation Capabilities: Evidence From German Manufacturing Firms,” Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 36 (6): 1235-1253. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6520.2012.00548.x
I have no reason to expect that any specific article will be retracted, but if a ninth article were to be retracted, I would assume it would come from one of these 17 18. Together with the eight retracted articles, that accounts for 25 26 articles of the 47 published articles.

The reasons announced for the retractions seem to fit three general categories:
  • Re-use of material from an earlier article
  • Empirical results that contradict an earlier result (e.g. by omitting a variable that was significant in an earlier paper)
  • Other statistical analysis problems, such as exaggerated or inconsistent statistical significance or R2 values (as in the Strategic Organization and Research Policy retractions)
All but the latter problem are associated with the second or subsequent publication from the same text or data. As such, the first (or first few) articles from a given series would not have such problems and are unlikely to ever be retracted.

However, if there are general statistical problems, those could apply to one or more of the other 22 21 articles. Six of the articles seem unlikely to be retracted for any reason because they are literature reviews without statistical analysis, and because they seem significantly different from each other:
  1. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2005). “External commercialization of knowledge: Review and research agenda,” International Journal of Management Reviews, 7 (4): 231-255. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2370.2005.00115.x
  2. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2007). “Hierarchical strategies and strategic fit in the keep-or-sell decision,” Management Decision, 45 (3): 340-359. DOI: 10.1108/00251740710744990
  3. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2008). “Leveraging technology assets in the presence of markets for knowledge,” European Management Journal, 26 (2): 122-134. DOI: 10.1016/j.emj.2007.09.002
  4. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2008). “Opening up strategic technology planning: extended roadmaps and functional markets,” Management Decision, 46 (1-2): 77-91. DOI: 10.1108/00251740910846752
  5. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2010). “Technology exploitation in the context of open innovation: Finding the right 'job' for your technology,” Technovation, 30 (7-8): 429-435. DOI: 10.1016/j.technovation.2010.04.001
  6. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich (2011). “Open Innovation: Past Research, Current Debates, and Future Directions,” Academy of Management Perspectives, 25 (1): 75-93. DOI: 10.5465/AMP.2011.59198451
How does this impact what papers to cite? Some remain oblivious to the whole scandal. This seems unlikely for board members of one of the five impacted journals, but might be possible at other journals or by scholars who are not active in innovation research (and don’t read the Retraction Watch or Open Innovation weblogs.)

In the end, individual scholars will make their own decisions. Some will refuse to cite any of Licthenthaler’s work, assuming it all to be tainted. Others will presume him innocent until proven guilty, citing any unretracted paper. Others seem to be taking an intermediate position: avoiding citing most of work, but giving credit for unique ideas not yet published by any other scholars.

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