Collaborative Innovation: Do we Collaborate or Cooperate?

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Collaborative Innovation: Do we Collaborate or Cooperate?

Difference between “collaboration” and “cooperation”

The past couple of years have seen the concept of Open Innovation evolve in specific ways. With aspects like collaborative innovation being born today, enterprises have adopted these new trends and taken full advantage of them. Since ancient times, man has always realized that working together is something very valuable. However, one question that is still being deliberated when it comes to collaborative innovation: do we collaborate or cooperate?

In the modern society, one thing that can’t be disputed is the importance of collaborative innovation. The stories of lone geniuses are rare as the majority of innovations that happen today are the result of collaborations. Most spectacular innovations are accomplished through this kind of participative innovation work, think of Airbus aircrafts involving three main companies in three different countries, of wireless technologies as 3G being designed by a forum of tens of companies or even the internet.

Collaborative Innovation Networks (COINs) were conceptualized and studied by Peter Gloor (MIT Mgt school) in an article in 2006. They are the principles of many national or transnational initiatives (as the European funded collaborative projects).

So what exactly is the difference between “collaborate” and “cooperate”?

Collaborative innovation is an iterative process whereby two or more parties that share similar goals combine their expertise to make their objectives come true. Goals are realized through knowledge sharing, learning and connecting pieces of innovation together.


Cooperation is different from collaboration, the parties involved act or work together while working on selfish yet common goals. Cooperations may take form of joint-ventures or shared R&D labs where the parties contribute mostly with similar expertise. It can also take the form of the incorporation of innovations from one party into the product of another (problem solving open innovation). The cooperating parties will often share the rewards of the innovation but through a single way to market and a single revenue stream.


While cooperation based open innovation is often a temporary situation where one party integrates contributions and controls the product and commercialization, collaborative innovation involves more than this. Since the whole idea with collaboration is about achieving a single goal, the relationship involves the entities putting in sufficient resources and competencies that are complementary rather than competitive.

Obviously, collaborative innovation projects are more complex to organize, control and measure but the results can benefit several companies businesses, multiplying the ROI. On the other side focused cooperations and open innovation projects serve a common goal, they are much easier to manage.

Regarding IPRs open innovation projects often involve one party granting licences or even selling patents to another, whereas collaborative innovation projects involve sharing new inventions between the partners and granting a right to use on the necessary background IP.

We hope that we have answered your questions about the issue “Collaborative Innovation: do we collaborate or cooperate?”

If you liked this article, we think you will also be interested in this one: “is Open Innovation really collaborative?

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One Comment
  1. In real life, whoever has the momentum in something often gets the privilege of “naming” it. As they say, “possession is 9/10 of the law”…

    This difference between cooperation and collaboration should be one that sticks pretty closely to what makes the two words meaningfully different. “Operating Together”, logically, would be a general phenomenon, and “Laboring Together” would be a more specific version of operating together. But of course the real sensitive issue at hand is about what “together” means.

    Let’s say that “an operation” generally implies a common goal, so its multiple participants are “co-operators”.

    Meanwhile, differing but concurrent labors can be complementary.

    The probability is that, logically, cooperation is pursued for a prescribed result, while collaboration is pursued for an increase in opportunities.

    Logically, neither approach offers more of a guarantee of “necessary effect” (aka, “success”) than the other. But the managerial tolerance for one versus the other is probably predictable within any given organization.

    The desire to get more firepower into an effort is a good motivation for an investment scenario, and if “getting more” means exceeding one’s own competency limitations, then collaboration is an attractive scheme. But if “getting more” is instead mainly about capacity limitations, then cooperation probably is a more rational approach.

    This difference is probably what organizations should know, regardless of what “successful innovators” say about how they succeeded.

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