Living It up at the Hotel California: Employee Mobility Barriers and Collaborativeness in Firms’ Innovation

Eunkwang Seo, Deepak Somaya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research has long recognized the importance of collaboration for innovation, but relatively little is known about the strategic drivers of collaborative innovation in firms. We posit that robust collaboration within firms can increase the interfirm mobility of inventors and increase spillovers of innovative knowledge to competitors by mobile inventors. Therefore, by mitigating these value capture hazards associated with collaboration, barriers to employee mobility may induce firms to increase collaborativeness in innovation. Additionally, consistent with the mechanism underlying this proposition, we hypothesize that firms whose innovation entails more complex knowledge, which is known to impede interfirm knowledge spillovers, will increase collaboration less when employee mobility increases. We test these hypotheses by leveraging quasi-exogenous changes in two legal mobility barriers for inventors across U.S. states and find that higher-mobility barriers are associated with greater inventor collaboration (as observed in patented innovation), and this effect is weaker for firms possessing more complex knowledge. These findings deepen our understanding of the strategic tradeoffs between value creation and value capture entailed in collaborative innovation within firms and of human capital strategies that help to manage these tradeoffs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)766-784
Number of pages19
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • collaboration
  • difference-in-differences analysis
  • employee mobility
  • innovation
  • knowledge complexity
  • value capture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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