The early days of European economic integration stimulated Marco Ceccagnoli’s interest in innovation. At the time, in the early 1990s, he was working on his master’s thesis at the University of Rome, theorizing on whether the formation of the European Union would have beneficial economic effects.
“I was interested in the mobility of creative ideas and whether freer flows of knowledge across Europe could stimulate growth,” says Ceccagnoli, now an associate professor of strategic management at Scheller College.
Today, his research into innovation has a decidedly high-tech focus. He’s fascinated by how firms – particularly those in the biotech, pharmaceutical and software industries – gain return on their investments in innovation. His studies explore companies that both innovate in-house and acquire or license technologies from other firms.
Intellectual Property Issues
His work carefully examines intellectual property (IP) rights. “My research looks at the debate over whether patents are good for innovation or not,” he says.
For example, firms might not want to invest as much in R&D unless solid IP rights ensure that they can gain a significant return, Ceccagnoli explains. However, in the software industry, strong IP rights could impede innovation because most new products build upon existing technology in a cumulative way.
“A dense wall of patents might hinder other firms from moving forward,” he explains.
Some of his research has looked at how IBM has freely donated hundreds of patents to promote open-source innovation, while other major players such as Apple and Microsoft have actively filed legal attacks against small firms with limited sources to protect themselves from IP challenges.
“One of the reasons IBM seems to be doing that is to create a healthy standard for the Linux operating system,” Ceccagnoli explains “They can make money from the complementary market, including consulting services and Linux applications.”
On the other hand, IP rights can be crucial to small firms’ successful entry into a platform such as Windows or SAP, helping to mitigate threats that new ideas might be duplicated by platform owners, Ceccagnoli says.
His research shows that firms can sometimes compensate for weak IP in some areas with complementary assets such as a strong brand for innovation and powerful marketing capabilities. Apple is an example of a company that combines these assets with strong IP to be a marketplace powerhouse, he notes.
Strong IP protection is key for small innovative firms with weak complementary capabilities, because it facilitates technology commercialization through a licensing-based business model, he adds.
Through the years, Ceccagnoli has published his research in leading journals such as the Strategic Management Journal, Management Science, and MIS Quarterly. His work has received several international honors, including the European Association for Research in Industrial Economics Award and the William W. Cooper Doctoral Dissertation Award in Management.
Passion for Research
Ceccagnoli developed a passion for research during the two years he spent working as a research analyst for an Italian investment banking firm after finishing his master's studies. That professional experience motivated him to earn his PhD in industrial organization and innovation at Carnegie Mellon University.
After finishing his doctoral studies, Ceccagnoli landed a post as assistant professor of strategy at INSEAD in France, where he worked for four years in order to be relatively close to home. But the pull of research drew him back to America.
“INSEAD is a great business school, but it’s not focused on the kind of research that I am working on,” he explains. “I missed the U.S. research environment and wanted to work in a stronger academic environment.”
Scheller’s Strategic Management group proved to be the right fit for Ceccagnoli because of its focus on technology. He says he enjoys incorporating his research on innovation into the Technology Strategy elective he teaches to MBA students as well as other courses for undergraduate and graduate students.
He also teaches students in the Technology Innovation: Generating Economic Results (TI:GER) program, a joint effort of Georgia Tech and Emory Law School, TI:GER brings together PhD, MBA and JD students to work on commercializing early-stage technologies. He helps these students understand various strategies for appropriating returns from technological innovations.
Since he joined the College in 2005, he has been impressed by the College’s ability to attract high-caliber faculty to the Strategic Management area. “I think we’re one of the top strategy groups with a focus on technology in the country,” says Ceccagnoli, who serves as PhD coordinator for his academic area.