Innovation, ownership and profitability

James H. Love, Stephen Roper, Jun Du

Research output: Preprint or Working paperWorking paper


There is lots of evidence that innovating firms are persistently more profitable than non-innovators, but little agreement on why this is the case. It may be because innovators are somehow able to protect their new products from the competition which normally erodes profits, or because innovating firms have superior capabilities and are able to introduce multiple innovations over time. And very little is known about the relationship between innovation, external ownership and profitability, despite the fact that foreign-owned firms are frequently highly innovative and very profitable. This paper considers the relationship between innovation, ownership and profitability for a panel of manufacturing plants in Ireland and Northern Ireland. We consider the link between innovation and profits separately for innovators and non-innovators, and for indigenous innovators and non-innovators and externally-owned plants. We also consider the determinants of innovation over the distribution of plant-level profitability, and find that the determinants of profitability – including innovation and external ownership – are quite different for low and high-profitability plants. We find support for the view that innovators and non-innovators have different profitability determinants, and that externally-owned plants have their profitability determined in a quite different way from indigenous enterprises. For indigenous non-innovators only the sector matters. Profitability in these enterprises is dictated largely by the industry they are in, with plants having virtually no means of differentiating their profitability from the norms of the industry. By contrast, indigenously-owned innovators are able to differentiate their profit performance from industry norms to some extent. Absolute size matters (negatively) and they get a strong boost from product innovation, but having a high market share does not matter for the profitability of indigenously-owned innovators. Externally-owned plants have a quite different set of profitability determinants from both of these groups. What matters for these plants is not the boost they get from innovating (there is none) but instead their position in the domestic market – a high market share boosts profitability. In policy terms our results suggest both optimistic and cautionary messages. On the positive side our results suggest that efforts to promote innovation activity among indigenously-owned plants are likely to have significant longer term benefits through their capability effects. For the development agencies in Ireland this is a reassuring result. On the more negative side, the lack of any relationship in our models between the innovation activities of externally-owned plants and their (profitability) performance raises potential concerns. This finding may reflect the lack of linkages between externally-owned plants and their Irish resource base, in turn raising some worrying issues about the ‘embeddedness’ of much FDI into Ireland and therefore its ‘stickiness’ in the face of Ireland’s increasing high relative cost base.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBirmingham (UK)
PublisherAston University
ISBN (Print)978-1-85449-699-7
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007

Publication series

NameAston Business School research papers
PublisherAston University


  • innovation
  • ownership
  • profitability
  • Ireland
  • Northern Ireland


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