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Martin C. Goossen

Research Findings

How mobility of R&D workers opens new avenues

March 3, 2019

R&D employees moving from one employer to another is a frequent, yet controversial event. On the one hand, inventor mobility has been shown to have a positive effect on overall innovative activity. On the aggregate level, the fast development of new technologies in regional clusters such as Silicon Valley is driven by dynamic labor markets and high turnover rates of engineers, programmers, or developers. On the firm-level, learning-by-hiring is a fast and efficient way to acquire external knowledge.

From the perspective a firm that loses key employees, outbound mobility, on the other hand, creates costs of finding suitable replacements and is associated with the risk of losing not only employees but also crucial knowledge. Knowledge that potentially is employed by the hiring firm to compete in related markets. Recent media coverage has revealed a number of lawsuits caused by one firm’s R&D employees moving to a competitor in industries ranging from semiconductors and mobile phones to pharmaceuticals and autonomous-driving vehicles.

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