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Technology strategies in converging technology systems: Evidence from printed electronics

Wambsganss, Annika; Bröring, Stefanie; Salomo, Søren; Sick, Nathalie

Novel technology systems, such as “fiber optics” and “printed electronics,” increasingly emerge at the interface of hitherto unrelated technology areas. As such, new technology systems often arise through technology convergence, characterized by integrating technology components and knowledge from different technology systems, resulting in a novel system architecture. This phenomenon is of utmost societal relevancy but simultaneously poses tremendous challenges for firms' technology strategies. Firms must not only cope with unrelated knowledge rooted in hitherto different technologies but also have to decide deliberately how systemic (i.e., complete technology system) versus focused (i.e., single component of the technology system) their engagement in technology development in the converging technology system ought to be. In addition, firms need to decide strategically to what extent to develop specialized or design knowledge. Extant concepts of technology strategy fall short of capturing this complexity inherent in converging technology systems. Therefore, to address how technology strategies co-evolve along with the emergence of new technology systems, this study adds a systems perspective to technology strategy by developing the concept of technology system coverage. This novel dimension of technology strategy is formed by the scope (i.e., focused vs. systemic coverage of the technology system) and type of technological knowledge (i.e., specialized or design knowledge). We empirically apply this novel angle of technology strategy to the convergence field of printed electronics. Based on a longitudinal set of 828 patents over 30 years, 74 relevant corporate actors are identified. The underlying taxonomy enables us to reveal four technology strategies and develop five propositions. The results indicate that all firms build design knowledge over time, whereas not all firms build specialized knowledge, no matter what technology strategy is pursued. In sum, this work advances literature by understanding technology strategy in emerging complex technology systems, introducing a systems perspective.
Published in: Journal of Product Innovation Management, 10.1111/jpim.12693, Wiley