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Rev Manag Sci (2015) 9:577601

DOI 10.1007/s11846-015-0168-6


Coopetition: a systematic review, synthesis, and future

research directions

Ricarda B. Bouncken1 Johanna Gast2

Sascha Kraus3 Marcel Bogers4

Received: 9 January 2015 / Accepted: 11 March 2015 / Published online: 24 March 2015
 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Abstract Coopetition describes an interorganizational relationship that combines

cooperation and competition. During recent years, coopetition has become an
important domain for industrial practice which has led to an increasing rate of
publications in academic journals. Despite the growing interest, coopetition research
is still fragmented, reflected by divergent uses of the coopetition concept, a lack of
generalizability, and a limited contextual focus. This article presents a systematic
literature review and a synthesis of high-quality contributions in this field with a
focus on a general overview of research on coopetition, coopetition as a strategy,
and the management of coopetition. By critically evaluating the current body of
literature and definitions, and connecting it to other promising domains, we develop
a new definition of coopetition and highlight several promising areas for future
research, such as the elaboration of theoretical and empirical approaches, the

& Ricarda B. Bouncken
Johanna Gast
Sascha Kraus
Marcel Bogers
Chair of Strategic Management and Organization, University of Bayreuth, Prieserstr. 2,
95440 Bayreuth, Germany
Montpellier Business School MRM, 2300 Avenue Des Moulins, 34185 Montpellier, France
Institute for Entrepreneurship, University of Liechtenstein, Furst-Franz-Josef-Strasse,
9490 Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Mads Clausen Institute, Faculty of Engineering, University of Southern Denmark, Alsion 2,
6400 Snderborg, Denmark

578 R. B. Bouncken et al.

consideration of contextual contingencies, and implications for innovation that in-

volves interorganizational knowledge flow.

Keywords Coopetition  Cooperation and competition  Interorganizational

relationships  Systematic review  State-of-the-art

JEL Classification D230  L140  M20

1 Introduction

Interorganizational collaborations become an important part of corporate strategy to

cope with faster business dynamics and higher uncertainties, for example due to the
present unstable economic and business developments in the form of market
globalization, aggressive economic competition and intensive know-how diffusion
among firms (e.g. Renna and Argoneto 2012; Bouncken et al. 2014, 2015).
Interestingly, half of the cooperative relationships take place between competitors
(Harbison et al. 1998), implying that competition and cooperation are not mutually
exclusive (Bengtsson and Kock 2000; Tsai 2002; Luo 2004, 2005). Combining these
two activities into a hybrid activity (Walley 2007, p. 12) in which firms compete
against and cooperate with each other at the same time has become known as
coopetition (Bengtsson and Kock 2000). While coopetition may combine the best
of both worlds of cooperation and competition, there is still an inherent paradox,
given the possible tension between value creation and capture.
Several examples illustrate the practical relevance of coopetition as an industrial
practice which has brought it to the forefront of business and management research
(Roy and Yami 2009). Sony, for instance, formed a joint venture with Samsung to
be ensured of a sufficient supply of high-quality LCD panels for the manufacturing
of TV sets (Ritala and Hurmelinna-Laukkanen 2009). In this case, the access to
resources crucial for Sonys production process was achieved through coopetitive
agreements with two of its main rivals. Similarly, when Toyota and General Motors
engaged in coopetition, the aim was to use each others resources, competencies and
knowledge bases to jointly develop fuel cell-powered cars, while competition in
other market segments did not vanish (Chin et al. 2008). In the beverage industry,
SanBenedetto SpA has started to produce for its competitors in order to achieve
higher volumes and related scale efficiencies (Bonel and Rocco 2007). And
recently, Ritala et al. (2014) revealed evidence of Amazons strategies which
represented a possibility to create and capture value through cooperation with
Although coopetition may combine the best of cooperation and competition,
fuzziness exists about the concept which is expressed in a diverse understanding and
implementation of coopetitive relationships and in a multitude of different
definitions in extant literature. Furthermore, the increased adoption of cooperative
activities has led to a set of divergent practices, roles, and relations that may
challenge the meaning and boundaries of the coopetition concept. Therefore, despite
a constant growth of published studies in this domain during the past two decades,

Coopetition: a systematic review, synthesis 579

the research is still fragmented and limited (Bengtsson and Kock 2000; Mariani
2007; Gast et al. 2015), calling for a state-of-the-art article to help researchers to go
beyond naming, claiming, or even evoking it (coopetition) (Padula and Dagnino
2007, p. 48). Put differently, at this stage of research, a fine-grained and detailed
understanding of the conceptualization and operationalization of the coopetition
concept is needed to facilitate future research and practice in this domain.
Responding to this need, this article provides an overview of current coopetition
literature by presenting a thorough and unique synthesis and a critical review.
Previous reviews in this domain primarily utilized traditional review methods (e.g.
Walley 2007; Peng et al. 2012; Bengtsson and Kock 2014). Systematic search
approaches or the application of quality thresholds are rarely found. As a step
towards a more systematic overview of coopetition literature, yet without any
quality limitations, Gast et al. (2015) recently provided a combination of a citation
analysis and a systematic literature review and structured past, present and future
research accomplishments in this domain. To complement earlier reviews (e.g.
Walley 2007; Peng et al. 2012; Bengtsson and Kock 2014), we perform and present
the findings of a systematic literature review combined with the application of a
quality threshold, allowing a comprehensive, transparent, and replicable selection
(Tranfield et al. 2003) of high-quality contributions published in top peer-reviewed
journals. These merits enable us to present a broad and multifaceted view of
coopetition in order to synthesize the diverse areas within coopetition research, to
develop an integrative definition based on previous research, and to identify a
promising agenda for future research.

2 Foundations

2.1 Conceptualizing coopetition

2.1.1 Traditional theories on inter-firm relationships

Before coopetition emerged as an important business strategy, competition and

cooperation were traditionally treated separately to describe the relationships among
firms (MChirgui 2005). The competitive perspective is based on divergent
interests, as each firms goal is to earn above-normal profits at the expense of its
competitors (Padula and Dagnino 2007). The cooperative perspective relies on a
diametrically opposite assumption (Bengtsson and Kock 2000, p. 416) and is
based on convergent interests (Padula and Dagnino 2007). Here, the main interest is
to achieve common and not individual goals by means of collective instead of single
actions. Through strategic alliances, networks, and other partnerships firms seek to
enhance their performance as resources, capabilities, and risks can be shared
(Gnyawali and Park 2009, 2011; Bouncken et al. 2014, 2015). Both perspectives
have limitations, and fail to grasp the entire picture of the actual interdependences
among firms (Padula and Dagnino 2007). The competition stream does not allow for
the possibility of interdependences having a positive impact on performance and, if
at all, cooperation is categorized only as a market imperfection that impedes

580 R. B. Bouncken et al.

competitive forces between firms. Within cooperation research, competitive

dynamics are very much underestimated, and are defined and treated as negative
influences due to the associated risk of e.g. knowledge spillovers or learning races
(see, for instance, Kale et al. 2000).

2.1.2 The origin and development of the coopetition concept

Some researchers argue that the origin of the coopetition construct dates from the
game-theoretical approach regarding real-world mixed-motive games in economics
research (Mariani 2007). However, most scholars agree that Raymond John Noorda,
CEO of the American multinational software and services company Novell, is the
one who coined the term coopetition and addressed it within the business
environment in the 1980/1990s (Luo et al. 2006) when he called for simultaneous
cooperation and competition among firms (Zhang and Frazier 2011). Though the
term coopetition was already introduced, it remained more or less under the radar
until 1996, when the new concept of alliances between competitors was explicated
by Brandenburger and Nalebuff. After their book Co-opetition was published,
scholars and managers began to recognize the existence of this new kind of inter-
firm relationship.

2.2 Review approach

Following suggestions of methodological rigor of management literature reviews

(e.g. Denyer and Neely 2004; Thorpe et al. 2005) and aiming to consolidate the
literature across the domain, our methodology is that of a systematic, evidence-
informed literature review (Tranfield et al. 2003). As Fig. 1 displays, we scanned
the electronic databases ABI Inform/ProQuest, EBSCOhost/Business Source
Premier, ingentaconnect, JSTOR, MENDELEY, ScienceDirect, Scopus, Spring-
erLink, and Web of Science, as well as Google Scholar for publications in peer-
reviewed academic business and management journals, omitting books, book
chapters, discussion papers and non-refereed publications (Podsakoff et al. 2005;
Ordanini et al. 2008). Although previous reviews in this domain mostly applied a
broader perspective by including studies that not only explicitly used the term
coopetition but also described simultaneous cooperation and competition and
alternative concepts, we deliberately focused our literature selection on articles
using the search items coopet*and co-opet* in the respective title and abstract.
As the research field of coopetition has been growing during the past few decades,
our aim is to provide an overview and synthesis of these articles rather than of
related concepts. Thus, we identified an initial sample of 139 publications. To
provide a quality threshold, we kept only those articles in the sample that were
published in academic journals ranked at a C level or higher (using the
conversion list between Impact Factors and German letter ratings of the major
German business magazine Handesblatt 2012) in at least one of the three
following major journal rankings (see Table 1):

Coopetition: a systematic review, synthesis 581

Electronic literature search

ABI Inform/ProQuest, EBSCOhost/Business Source Premier,
ingentaconnect, JSTOR, MENDELEY, ScienceDirect, Scopus,
SpringerLink, Web of Science, Google Scholar

Selection criteria
Keywords: co-opet* and coopet* in titles and abstracts
Peer-reviewed articles in business and management journals
Published until 2014

n=139 publications

Application of quality threshold

n=82 publications

Individual assessment and in-depth review

by a team of four researchers

Fig. 1 Systematic research approach

Table 1 Conversion table of

VHB Jourqual ABS JCR Impact Factor
leading academic journal
A? 4* C3
A 4* C2
B 3* C1.5
C 2* C0.7
D 1* C0

The German Academic Association for Business Research (VHB) Jourqual

2.1 with the cut-off of CC
The British Association of Business Schools (ABS) Academic Journal Quality
Guide v.4 with the cut-off of C2
The ThomsonReuters Journal Citation Reports (JCR) Impact Factors with the
cut-off of C0.7

582 R. B. Bouncken et al.

Following this limitation, we excluded 57 articles mainly because they were

published in unranked journals (n = 49), resulting in a final sample of n = 82 high-
quality scholarly articles.
To identify the main topics in our systematic sample of coopetition-related
literature, we scanned the sample multiple times and iteratively developed patterns
of recurrent themes. A team of four researchers read through the sample of articles
in order to cluster the publications according to previously agreed categories. The
individual assessments were then compared and discussed, leading to the basic
analysis as presented in this article.

2.3 An overview of research on coopetition

Since 1996, when the first scientific article on coopetition was published in an
academic journal, the number of scientific articles has been growing steadily.
Figure 2 shows two peaks in 2007 and 2009, which are the result of increased
attention paid to coopetition in certain scientific journals. In 2007, the journal
International Studies of Management and Organization devoted an entire issue to
the topic Coopetition Strategy: Toward a new kind of interfirm dynamics?
(Volume 37, Issue 2) while in 2009, the International Journal of Entrepreneurship
and Small Business published a special issue on Coopetition and Entrepreneur-
ship (Volume 8, Issue 1). Due to such focus, a proportionally large number of
studies have been published in the International Journal of Entrepreneurship and
Small Business (seven articles) and International Studies of Management and
Organization (five articles), as well as in Technovation (four articles).
Making use of the journal ranking presented in Table 1, and categorizing an
article as A (n = 28), B (n = 21), or C (n = 33) if it is rated accordingly in
at least one of the three rankings, a large part of prior research has been published in

16 15



10 9
8 8

4 3 3 5
1 2 2
2 1 3 3
0 1
0 1
1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013

Peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals Polynominal regression line

Fig. 2 Chronological development of the number of scientific articles, 19962013 (n = 82)

Coopetition: a systematic review, synthesis 583

lower-ranked journals, while the top (category A) journals are currently

catching up. The majority of these top articles were published after 2007 (19
articles), with peaks in 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2012 (each more than four articles).
This is in line with recent calls for papers for special issues on coopetition in such
top journals as the Strategic Management Journal or Industrial Marketing
We also analyzed the fields represented by the journal articles in our sample. To
this end, we made use of the Web of Science categories, which classify journals and
their corresponding articles based on certain topical areas. Being a new form of
inter-firm relationship, coopetition is most prominent in management and business
research, with 62 and 46 articles classified as management or business, respectively,
in our sample. In this vein, the potential impact of coopetition on management and
business strategies is an important topic. At the same time, coopetition has been
analyzed in a wide range of different fields, such as operations research (13 articles),
engineering (12 articles), or computer science (12 articles).
With respect to the level of analysis, the studies also tend to differ. The most
prominent level of coopetition analysis is the inter-firm/organization level (e.g.
Dowling et al. 1996; Bengtsson and Kock 2000; Quintana-Garcia and Benavides-
Velasco 2004; Bouncken and Kraus 2013), when coopetition between two
competing firms or organizations is explored. Additionally, the literature review
has revealed some attempts to determine the dynamics of coopetitive interactions on
the individual level between people (e.g. Enberg 2012), on the intraorganizational
level within firms and thus between business units (e.g. Tsai 2002; Luo et al. 2006),
and on the network level (e.g. Luo et al. 2006; Peng and Bourne 2009).
A variety of industries and contexts have been examined, e.g. producing sectors
such as petrochemicals (e.g. Tsai 2002), retail (e.g. Kotzab and Teller 2003), port
management (e.g. Song and Lee 2012), engineering (e.g. Shih et al. 2006; Salvetat
and Geraudel 2012), and technology in general (e.g. Chin et al. 2008; Gnyawali and
Park 2009), as well as biotechnology (e.g. Quintana-Garcia and Benavides-Velasco
2004; Lai et al. 2007), energy-saving technology (e.g. Carf and Schiliro 2012), and
information technology (e.g. Carayannis and Alexander 2001; Gueguen 2009).
Service firms in sectors like transportation (e.g. Gwynne 2009), finance (e.g. Czakon
2009), insurance (e.g. Okura 2007), tourism (e.g. Von Friedrichs Grangsjo 2003;
Wang and Krakover 2008), education (e.g. Nair et al. 2011), health care (e.g.
Barretta 2008; Peng and Bourne 2009), and spatial development (e.g. Van Buuren
et al. 2010) have been analyzed, too.
In addition to the topical diversity, the studies in our sample applied a variety of
methodological approaches, as shown in Table 2. Given the complex nature of
coopetition and its nascent theoretical understanding, many researchers have opted
for qualitative approaches, mostly single or multiple case studies, in order to arrive
at a an in-depth understanding of the research objectives. Several quantitative
research methods have been applied, too. The largest share was captured by
mathematical and game-theoretical modeling, diverse regression models, or
structural equation models. Furthermore, 15 papers were conceptual in nature.
When explaining the phenomenon of coopetition, scholars have relied on
different theoretical viewpoints. From an economic perspective, the transaction cost

584 R. B. Bouncken et al.

Table 2 Applied
Method Number of articles
methodologies in coopetition
research (n = 82)
Conceptual models 15
Theory paper 13
Literature review 2
Qualitative methods 29
Case studies 25
Other 4
Quantitative methods 19
Regression analyses 9
Structural equation models 2
Descriptive analyses 1
Analyses of variance (ANOVA, MANCOVA) 1
Cluster analyses 1
Factor analyses 2
Other 5
Mathematical and simulation models 11
Mathematical modeling 7
Game-theoretical modeling 5
Mixed methods 8

theory (e.g. Ritala and Hurmelinna-Laukkanen 2009), institutional economics (e.g.

Mione 2009), game theory (e.g. Ritala and Hurmelinna-Laukkanen 2009; Ritala
2012), and the resource-based view (e.g. Mention 2011; Ritala and Sainio 2014), as
well as the dynamic capabilities theory (e.g. MChirgui 2005) have been applied. In
addition, organization theories have been used to approach the issue of coopetition:
organization/strategic learning (e.g. Luo et al. 2006; Mariani 2007) and (social)
network theory (e.g. Tsai 2002; Gnyawali et al. 2006).

3 State-of-the-art review on coopetition research

3.1 Coopetition as a strategy

3.1.1 Coopetition as a strategy to gain market power

Using a pie as a metaphor for the creation of a market and the subsequent allocation
of market shares, Brandenburger and Nalebuff (1996) already explained the
dynamics of coopetition in their seminal book. Initially, firms join forces in a
cooperative way as their primary mutual aim is to bake the largest possible pie.
Once the pie has been made conjointly, the firms strategy changes from
cooperating to competing, as each firm now wants to take the largest possible
slice of the cake for itself. In other words: each firm seeks to gain the largest market
power at the expense of the other market players. These dynamics have been

Coopetition: a systematic review, synthesis 585

empirically shown between several producing companies, e.g., Sony and Samsung
(Gnyawali and Park 2011) as well as service firms (e.g. Ritala et al. 2009).
Relatedly, Bengtsson and Kock (2000) have disentangled motives in terms of value
creation and value appropriation. When firms aim to mutually increase industry
profits and create a bigger market for their products, they choose the cooperative
element for value creation. As soon as value has been created through combined
forces, the same companies turn against each other to appropriate as much value as
possible on their own. Gaining this greater value (e.g. Rusko 2011) and at least
achieving a winwin situation for all parties through a larger market (e.g. Liu 2013)
are major motives driving competing firms into coopetitive relationships.
This theory is supported by evidence for the smart card industry, as firms
dominantly cooperate in input activities (e.g. R&D activities, promotion of
standards, design implementation and development) and compete when they aim
to capture the largest share of the jointly created value through security, cost
reduction and characteristics of use (output activities) (MChirgui 2005). Similar
evidence is observed for the tourism industry where collaboration is needed to
promote a tourist destination and competition to increase the size of the business
(Von Friedrichs Grangsjo 2003). Thus, while cooperative behavior is observed far
away from the customer, activities closer to the customer are more competitive.
Some scholars have proposed that coopetition can be an effective response to
environmental threats and opportunities. With respect to environmental changes,
Padula and Dagnino (2007) have suggested an impact of changing and unstable
environmental conditions on firms coopetitive strategic behavior. Ritala (2012) has
shown a positive relationship between coopetition and firms innovation and market
performance in general and especially under the circumstances of high uncertainty,
positive network externalities, and low competition in the respective market.
Approaching the drivers for coopetition from a somewhat different angle, Mariani
(2007) has explored the role of the institutional environment for the emergence of
coopetitive strategies through the imposition of cooperation by regional policy
makers. Hence, firms external environment, being the market conditions, or their
institutional environment can push competitors into coopetitive relationships.
Additionally, Padula and Dagnino (2007) have postulated that the relative
knowledge structure of firms can influence the decision whether to cooperate, to
compete, or to do engage in both. This can be explained by the firms increasing
need for external knowledge and resources, as both are not distributed homoge-
neously (Bengtsson and Kock 2000; Enberg 2012) and are valuable to the firms
competitiveness and innovativeness in competition with rival firms. As the modern
business environment is quickly changing and uncertain (Ritala and Hurmelinna-
Laukkanen 2013), firms are constantly under pressure to keep up with these changes
in order to remain competitive. Here, partnerships with external partners, e.g.
competitors, become valuable (Roy and Yami 2009).

3.1.2 Coopetition as a strategy in innovation processes

A central advantage of coopetition is the possibility to overcome knowledge

asymmetries with respect to innovation (e.g. Brolos 2009), similar to the advantage

586 R. B. Bouncken et al.

of alliances (Enberg 2012). Competing firms are likely to have a more common or
similar knowledge base than non-competitors, which enables successful knowledge
sharing and integration more easily and supports the generation of new knowledge
and products (e.g. Ritala and Hurmelinna-Laukkanen 2009; Enberg 2012).
Furthermore, they are generally confronted with the same market conditions,
customer needs, and uncertainty problems which support a common perception of
future changes and help to develop innovations which are beneficial and profitable
for all parties involved (Baumard 2009). Thus, compared to simple alliances among
market players, cooperation between competitors entails crucial benefits for
innovation activities.
Empirical studies stress the positive relationship between coopetition and
innovativeness (see also Gast et al. 2015). Based on game-theoretical consid-
erations, Rodrigues et al. (2009) have suggested that coopetition can result in a win
win situation for all involved parties (in this case Apple and Nike) with respect to
increased sales, market shares, international brand recognition, and market
penetration. Similarly, a positive relationship between coopetition and the firms
overall competitive performance and their success in developing radical innovations
has been observed by Bouncken and Fredrich (2012). Along this line, Quintana-
Garcia and Benavides-Velasco (2004) have proposed that cooperation with rival
firms results in more radical product development than cooperation between non-
Despite the tempting advantages, coopetition does not go without specific risks
and challenges, which have to be kept in mind especially when it comes to
coopetition in innovation activities. Coopetition is fraught with the risk of
opportunism and knowledge leakage. Both issues are of particular importance
when dealing with coopetitive innovation, as they can hamper the generation of
radical innovations (Cassiman et al. 2009). The coopetitive dynamics represent a
certain vulnerability to firms, who therefore need to carefully balance knowledge
sharing and integration against knowledge withholding and protection (Baumard
2009). In fact, firms are friends and rivals at the same time: friends who share and
rivals who withhold information and knowledge.

3.1.3 Coopetition as a strategy in supply chain relations

Cooperation and competition can also co-exist within buyersupplier and supplier
supplier relationships (e.g. Gurnani et al. 2007; Lacoste 2012; Eriksson 2008), and
just like coopetition between firms which are not connected via supply chains, the
involved firms seek to collaboratively increase potential gains while simultaneously
fighting for the largest gains (Wilhelm 2011). In particular, 13 studies have explored
this link in the sample. A closer look at this sub-sample shows that all studies except
one (Kotzab and Teller 2003) were published after 2007. Content-wise, these
studies all explore different issues, as for instance the role of coopetition in supply-
chain security (Bakshi and Kleindorfer 2009), coopetition and supply-chain
knowledge creation (e.g. Wilhelm and Kohlbacher 2011) and management (Li
et al. 2011; Ho and Ganesan 2013), coopetitive strategies of closed-loop supply
chains (Chen and Chang 2012), and coopetition in logistics (e.g. Kovacs and Spens

Coopetition: a systematic review, synthesis 587

2013). Some have explicitly focused on vertical supply-chain relations (e.g. Kim
et al. 2013) and others have explored horizontal suppliersupplier relations (e.g.
Wilhelm 2011; Zhang and Frazier 2011).

3.1.4 Coopetition as a strategy in global competition

With respect to coopetition across borders, different forms of coopetitive situations

have been analyzed so far: coopetition among global rivals (Luo 2007; Gnyawali
and Park 2011), coopetition with foreign governments (Luo 2004), and coopetition
within MNEs (Luo 2005). Referring to coopetition among global competitors, Luo
(2007) has observed an increased competitive pressure and a simultaneously
increased desire for cooperation. Cooperation is preferable because of its general
benefits, while competition is necessary to bypass anti-trust regulations or anti-
monopoly demands. The coopetitive relationship between MNEs and foreign
governments is ambiguous (Luo 2004). On the one hand, governments are expected
to control and regulate markets; on the other hand, they should be interested in the
maximization of social welfare. Concerning internal coopetition within MNEs,
cooperation is necessary when it comes to the sharing or exchange of resources and
knowledge among sub-units and through supply-chain mechanisms. Competition,
however, is needed to secure the corporations support, resources etc. (Luo 2005).
Others have tried to explore cross-cultural coopetition, i.e., the effect of cultural
determinants on coopetition among companies with different cultural backgrounds
(e.g. Rijamampianina and Carmichael 2005). This is of particular importance, as
cultural differences can present barriers to coopetitive arrangements due to
increased uncertainty in the coopetition process (Yu 2008).

3.2 Management of coopetition

3.2.1 Simultaneously managing cooperation and competition

In practice, coopetition is not always successful (Walley 2007), and to reap the
positive benefits, scholars have tried to identify success factors with respect to the
management of this type of inter-firm relationship. As coopetition, by definition,
includes cooperative and competitive elements, two different logics of interaction
are in place (Bengtsson and Kock 2000). For the cooperation phase to be successful,
a friendly mind-set is necessary, while hostility is caused when firms turn against
each other, striving to maximize their own benefit (Bengtsson and Kock 2000). As a
result, tensions on the inter- and intraorganizational level can occur. Hence, active
management is required to define what to share, with whom, when and under
which conditions (Levy et al. 2003, p. 642). Firms must separate pre-competitive
and competitive stages of the innovation process, for instance, to manage the flow of
information, knowledge, competencies etc. And to prevent the unintended sharing
of technologies and being imitated by the rival (Bengtsson and Kock 2000). By
means of a case study, Bengtsson and Kock (2000) have demonstrated that the
logics of interactions should be separated between different units within the firms,
since individual employees experience difficulties while cooperating and competing

588 R. B. Bouncken et al.

with each other at the same time. Moreover, they demonstrated that the degree of
proximity to the customer determines the division between cooperation and
competition: firms tend to cooperate with respect to activities far away from the
customer and to compete on activities that are closer to the customer (Bengtsson and
Kock 2000).
In light of these tensions, formal protection mechanisms should be implemented
in the management of coopetition to enable necessary sharing and integration while
hampering harmful leakage of knowledge, technologies, or core competencies. Chin
et al. (2008), for instance, have identified a hierarchical model of coopetition
strategy management in which the aspects (1) management leadership, (2) long-
term commitment, (3) organizational learning, (4) trust, knowledge and risk sharing,
(5) information system support, and (6) conflict management systems determine the
success of a coopetition strategy. As found by Gnyawali and Park (2011), three key
factors enabled the global firms Sony and Samsung to generate benefits of
coopetition: (1) a coopetitive mind-set of the management, (2) coopetitive
experience within the firms, and (3) complementary resources and capabilities.
These aspects were decisive for the success of the coopetitive agreement, as they
created a winwin situation for all partners. Enberg (2012) has illustrated that
frameworks can be developed which on the one hand enable and on the other hand
restrain knowledge sharing. The involved firms had drawn up a clear statement of
work to enable and establish knowledge integration (up to a pre-determined degree)
and a common understanding about the project. To achieve the latter objective,
standardized forms for, e.g., reporting systems were implemented. By means of
these mechanisms, the top management was able to control the process of
knowledge integration as well as the transferred content. Similar evidence was
given by Gnyawali and Park (2011), who observed that the balance between
knowledge sharing and maintaining uniqueness was achieved by means of formal
cross-licensing, which explicitly excluded differentiated technology patents from
the agreement.
When the partner is a direct competitor or possesses a high technological
similarity, knowledge integration and separation are two important issues. In these
cases, Hung and Chang (2012) have found that firms use contractual agreements
rather than fully integrated joint ventures to protect their core business and
competencies. In a similar vein, focusing explicitly on the relationship between
coopetition and innovation, Ritala and Hurmelinna-Laukkanen (2009) proposed that
the degree to which a company can differentiate and protect its innovations against
imitation can positively influence the firms ability to gain from coopetition.
In a related study, Ritala and Hurmelinna-Laukkanen (2013) explored how the
ability to acquire knowledge from external sources (absorptive capacity) and to
protect its innovations and core knowledge from imitation (appropriability regime)
(p. 166) affect a cooperating competitors development of incremental and radical
innovations. While both firm-related factors affect the occurrence of incremental
innovations, only the appropriability regime matters for radical innovations.

Coopetition: a systematic review, synthesis 589

3.2.2 The benefits of coopetition

Coopetition enables firms to take advantage of synergy effects. Not only can costs
be shared, risks be mitigated, and economies of scales be realized by means of
mutual activities (Luo 2007; Gnyawali and Park 2009, 2011); involved companies
can also pro-actively pool their R&D activities (Walley 2007) and get access to
external knowledge and resources which they then can apply in their own company
(Bengtsson and Kock 2000). This can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of
the involved companies and generate a winwin-situation with lower overall costs
(Chin et al. 2008). Although this potentially implies lower costs for rivals, too,
Soubeyran and Weber (2002) showed mathematically that the benefit of lowering
ones own costs outweighs this negative side effect. As a result of the cooperation,
partners can develop a common knowledge base using both firms experience and
expertise (Ritala and Hurmelinna-Laukkanen 2009) that increases their innovation
capacity, as shown by numerous studies (e.g. Quintana-Garcia and Benavides-
Velasco 2004; Bonel and Rocco 2007; Ritala 2012). These advantages of
coopetition can improve the firms competitive advantage (Afuah 2000; Levy
et al. 2003; Ritala and Hurmelinna-Laukkanen 2009), as they can develop products
or services which they would be unable to create without a coopetitive partner or
only at a later stage (Walley 2007). This creates value for firms and customers, as
the interests of both the companies and the customers that they supply are best
served by a coopetitive balance of both competition and cooperation (Walley
2007, p. 16) and the risk of collusion (Mariani 2007; Walley 2007; Rusko 2011) is
minimal. Gnyawali and Park (2011) observed three positive key outcomes of
coopetition. In addition to the effects of coopetition on value creation (1) and value
appropriation (2), the industry as a whole benefitted from the technological
development between the firms, which induced strong reactions of other competing
companies and led to a drastic drop in prices (3).

3.2.3 The risks of coopetition

The management of coopetitive strategies is a challenging task (Gnyawali and Park

2009) and is sometimes even described as a dangerous situation (Pellegrin-
Boucher et al. 2013, p. 74), as they entail several sources of conflict due to the
complex and interdependent nature of the relationship. For one thing, the
participating firms can experience internal tensions, as the management is
confronted with role conflicts due to the clash of the two logics of interaction,
which need special attention and can create actual costs to the coopeting partners
(Dowling et al. 1996). A loss of flexibility and freedom (Baumard 2009) based on
the interaction and interdependence with external partners can negatively influence
the involved firms. Afuah (2000) analyzed the danger of interdependence among
coopeting firms. Based on an empirical study, he came to the conclusion that the
network of coopetitors and a change in their capabilities can negatively influence
the competitive advantage and finally the performance of the focal firm. Similarly,
Bengtsson and Kock (2000) proposed that the interrelationships between coopetitors
are important, because changes may affect the entire network positively as well as

590 R. B. Bouncken et al.

negatively. Opportunism (Levy et al. 2003; Baumard 2009) can be a critical issue,
too. The sharing of resources and knowledge can induce competing partners to
develop an opportunistic mind-set: they can use their power and force other parties
to act in a way which is only to the best interest of the stronger firm, they can use
jointly developed expertise for their own advantage at the expense of the other
(Bouncken and Kraus 2013; Pellegrin-Boucher et al. 2013), or they can become less
committed to the coopetitive agreement over time. Such a threat of opportunism and
knowledge leakage can impede the development of radical innovations (Cassiman
et al. 2009) and can harm the overall performance and competitiveness of coopeting
firms. Conflicting priorities among the coopeting firms can also be a source of
disagreement, as firms differ in aims and needs (Bonel and Rocco 2007). The case
study on San Benedetto SpA (Bonel and Rocco 2007) has shown that coopetition in
production especially can cause serious coordination and prioritizing problems and
that firms need to manage coopetitive relationships carefully.
All in all, research so far lends credibility to the notion that coopetition is a
double-edged sword (Bouncken and Fredrich 2012, p. 2060). On the one hand, it
can be positively related to the companys growth, its competitiveness and
innovativeness, and its ability to deal with the turbulent business environment. On
the other hand, it is fraught with difficulties in the sense that opportunism,
misunderstandings, and spillovers can hamper the positive impact of coopetition on
performance and innovation.

4 Where to go from here

Based on a systematic review of 82 scientific articles, this study provides a thorough

picture of the current state of coopetition research. As a result, and to advance the
research field, in this chapter we compare previous definitions of coopetition and
synthesize its main characteristics to propose a developed definition for future
research. In doing so, we respond to recent calls for a common definition of
coopetition (e.g. Gast et al. 2015). Moreover, we disclose three general potential
research gaps which can be used as input for forthcoming projects.

4.1 Development of previously applied definitions

In the existing literature, almost all definitions of coopetition include one basic
element, i.e., the co-existence of the two logics of interaction, cooperative and
competitive, between the same actors (Gnyawali et al. 2006). In a narrow sense,
these actors can be direct competitors who operate in the same market offering the
same product/service (e.g. Bengtsson and Kock 2000). This perspective is mostly
applied when analyzing coopetition in dyadic or network relationships (e.g.
Bengtsson and Kock 2000; Gnyawali et al. 2006; Von Friedrichs Grangsjo 2003;
Gueguen 2009). In a broader sense, actors imply suppliers, customers, comple-
mentors or competitors (e.g. Afuah 2000, 2004), and the studies applying this
perspective address, for instance, coopetition with respect to supply-chain relations
(e.g. Kotzab and Teller 2003) or the impacts of technological changes (e.g. Afuah

Coopetition: a systematic review, synthesis 591

2000, 2004). Furthermore, coopetition is understood as a non-dichotomist construct

(Padula and Dagnino 2007). Both the cooperative and competitive parts need to be
visible and practiced (Bengtsson and Kock 2000), while the former part is generally
used to jointly create value and the latter to capture value at the expense of the
partner (Brandenburger and Nalebuff 1996; Ritala and Hurmelinna-Laukkanen
2009). Although the two forms of interaction can be undertaken on different levels,
say on the individual (e.g. Enberg 2012), team (e.g. Baruch and Lin 2012; Ghobadi
and DAmbra 2012), or network level (e.g. Mantena and Saha 2012), the coopetition
concept is studied mostly on the organizational level, either between separate
organizations who cooperate and compete simultaneously (e.g. Chin et al. 2008) or
between business units of an organization (e.g. Tsai 2002). Moreover, we found
hints concerning the nature of the coopetitive relationship which need to be
considered in defining the scope of coopetition. As pointed out by some scholars
(e.g. Hung and Chang 2012), coopetition is rather dynamic, for instance because
goals, market conditions, and roles continuously evolve. In this light, coopetition is
also more a process than a discrete situation.
Based on the broad set of dimensions of coopetition that are suggested in the
literature, we propose the following integrative definition: Coopetition is a strategic
and dynamic process in which economic actors jointly create value through
cooperative interaction, while they simultaneously compete to capture part of that
value. This definition advances previous attempts in diverse ways, as we consolidate
aspects of coopetition which have been only loosely mentioned in the literature so
far. We do include the basic element of the coexistence of cooperative and
competitive forces at the same time. However, we also express the strategic and
dynamic nature of coopetitive relationships and add the relevance of cooperation
and competition for creating and capturing value. By focusing on actors rather than
direct competitors, suppliers etc., we furthermore allow for the fact that coopetition
can exist on the organizational level as well as the individual, team, or network

4.2 Future directions for coopetition research

4.2.1 Researching coopetition: empirical and theoretical approaches

While the topic of coopetition has gained interest in management and business
literature as well as in other areas, the research field is still fragmented and entails
certain limitations. Studies have been published in a wide range of scientific
journals and have dealt with a variety of research questions with respect to
numerous industries. As we explained in the review approach, a large number of
studies are published in lower-ranked journals, although the notion is currently
gaining more traction in higher-ranked journals. Besides, more than 50 % of the
reviewed studies applied conceptual or qualitative approaches, aimed at theory
development and not theory extension. Their primary goal has been to explore and
describe the field of coopetition for which in-depth qualitative analyses are
generally used (Eisenhardt 1989). The fact that only 17 of 82 studies have worked
with quantitative methods demonstrates that coopetition research is still in its

592 R. B. Bouncken et al.

infancy. Deeper research based on larger quantitative samples is needed to develop

and test relevant theories and hypotheses, thereby also increasing the validity and
generalizability of the research. In this process, a stronger focus on measurement
will be required, in order to establish convergence between different studies,
including qualitative and quantitative ones, while large-scale data acquisition (e.g.
secondary sources such as data banks, product development data, or surveys) will be
important to advance the (consistent) measurement of coopetition practices.
In the process of creating a more systematic evidence base for the coopetition
concept, there are a number of topics that need to be addressed in order to get a
more complete and integrative picture of the various aspects of coopetition. Table 3
provides a list of possible dimensions and related topics that are based on our
synthesis and interpretation of the state of coopetition research. For example, one of
the issues to highlight is that little research has been done concerning the
capabilities that are necessary to coopete successfully, which implies that the
coopetitive partnership somehow results in a competitive advantage and a
possibility for the involved firms to outperform other market players. Through the
lens of the resource-based view (RBV), access to resources and capabilities which

Table 3 Possible dimensions and topics in future coopetition research

Dimension Coopetition topic

Roles Vertical versus horizontal coopetition

Relation to supply chains
Intra-firm versus inter-firm positions
Content Efficiency
Market power
Market exploration and development
Process Value generation and value appropriation
Common and private benefits
Sequential versus parallel value creation/capture
Management of the process: separation, integration, etc.
Levels Intra-firm and inter-firm levels
Micro-foundations and aggregated levels
Examples include: individual, team, alliance, firm, strategic groups, industries,
regional systems
Theoretical Dynamics and game theory
perspectives Resource-based view and dynamic capabilities
Power: resource dependency, control theory
Negotiation: contract building, contract learning, different relational capital
(networks, experiences)
Governance logic

Coopetition: a systematic review, synthesis 593

are unique, valuable, inimitable, and non-substitutable (Barney 1991; Grant 1991)
can be a source of competitive advantage. In the search for missing but necessary
resources or capabilities, firms tend to turn to external players as suppliers,
customers or even competitors to engage in strategic partnerships or coopetition.
While access to those assets is certainly essential, the dynamic capabilities
framework adds the importance of the firms way of dealing with these resources
and capabilities once they have gained access to them. The sustainable competitive
advantage, required to match the evolving business environment, is then based on
the firms ability to accumulate, mobilize and deploy these capabilities (Teece et al.
1997) and not on the mere possession of them. Despite the importance of
capabilities, the link between (dynamic) capabilities and coopetition has so far not
been explored in depth (e.g. Quintana-Garcia 2004; Mention 2011). However, as
these will become more important in a dynamic and complex environment, it will be
crucial to delve into the conditions under which firms are able to coopete profitably.
Table 3 also highlights the importance of considering coopetition at multiple
levels of analysis, ranging from a micro level (individuals) to a macro level
(regional systems, industries, society). More generally, an ultimate research
objective could be to develop a multi-level model of coopetition, where the
activities of the various levels are linked in an integrative framework which explains
the logic and mechanisms across and between different levels as well as the
aggregation from one level to another. For example, how the coopetitive
relationship between two individuals explains the coopetitive behavior of the
respective firms, and how this ultimately affects the performance of the firms and
their relationship.

4.2.2 The context of coopetition: environmental and organizational contingencies

Besides largely being qualitative, much coopetition research has been quite limited
in terms of research contexts, which is problematic from a validity and
generalizability point of view. Coopetition has been explored comprehensively in
the context of knowledge-intensive, dynamic, and complex industries (e.g.
Carayannis and Alexander 1999) such as biotechnology (e.g. Quintana-Garcia and
Benavides-Velasco 2004; Lai et al. 2007), the IT domain (e.g. Ritala et al. 2009;
Bouncken and Kraus 2013), and high-tech industries in general (e.g. Gnyawali and
Park 2009; Pun 2013). These industries are shaped by inherent characteristics which
are likely to be driving forces leading firms into coopetition: shorter product life
cycles, convergence of multiple technologies, and increasing R&D and capital
expenditures (Gnyawali and Park 2009). As a result, firms in these industries are
confronted with a relatively high level of uncertainty and can benefit from
coopetition. Within technologically turbulent sectors, a coopetitive strategy can
increase the firms risk-sharing opportunities (Gnyawali and Park 2011; Hung and
Chang 2012). Such a strategic move helps to keep pace with the constantly changing
environment; companies can share important expertise and are better prepared for
the risks associated with an uncertain future (Bouncken and Kraus 2013). In
technologically turbulent sectors such as these, coopetition can offer a wide range of
strategic options and risk-sharing opportunities (Gnyawali and Park 2011; Hung and

594 R. B. Bouncken et al.

Chang 2012). However, only a few cross-industry studies have been conducted so
far. This is a clear limitation, as the obtained results are at least partly biased
towards the particular characteristics of the industry studied.
In addition to these foci on industrial or environmental contexts, coopetition
research has also been limited in exploring a greater variety of firms (see also Gast
et al. 2015). Especially in the wider context of entrepreneurship, i.e. in small and
medium-sized enterprise (SME), start-up or family firm research (e.g. Harms et al.
2010), it would seem to be a promising, yet underexplored possibility. For example,
only a limited number of studies have explicitly focused on the potential
contributions of coopetition in the context of SMEs (e.g. Levy et al. 2003; Morris
et al. 2007; Robert et al. 2009; Thomason et al. 2013), even though coopetition can
have important benefits for these firms. Due to their size, SMEs are usually limited
in their resources and market presence (Morris et al. 2007) and therefore enter into
coopetitive relationships (Thomason et al. 2013). These inter-firm agreements are
crucial for them (Gnyawali and Park 2009), as they can improve their resource base,
their competitive position in existing markets, and their entry in new or foreign
markets (i.e. internationalization). Most empirical results underline the importance
of coopetition for SMEs. For one thing, coopetition is associated with enhanced
financial performance of SMEs (Levy et al. 2003). Morris et al. (2007) have
concluded that coopetition can be a risk management strategy (p. 52) for SMEs in
the sense that overall uncertainty and costs can be mitigated. Hung and Chang
(2012) have stressed the importance of coopetitive strategies in light of the intensity
and complexity of present technological battles. Nevertheless, it has been shown
that coopetition can have both positive and negative effects on the technological
diversity of small firms (Quintana-Garcia and Benavides-Velasco 2004).
As for SMEs, coopetition can be advantageous for start-ups, which are also
limited in size and additionally have to cope with the liability of newness (Aldrich
and Auster 1986; Bruderl and Schussler 1990) manifested in a lack of resources and
relationships. Access to these missing resources can be facilitated by alliances with
external partners, as suppliers, customers or also competitors (Teece 1992; Gulati
1998). For a sample of biotechnology firms, Baum (1996) investigated the hazards
which small and young firms face. They found not only that alliances improve the
initial performance of the firms, providing access to information and capabilities,
but more importantly that alliances with competitors were not at all harmful.
Nonetheless, small and young firms are vulnerable in the sense that they can easily
be taken over by larger rivals. Thus, tension exists between the need for external
resources and the fear of being caught by corporate sharks (Katila et al. 2008,
p. 295). Future research should therefore aim to discover to what extent coopetition
can really solve the liabilities of smallness and newness and contribute to the growth
and success of these firms; when, how and why small and young firms should
engage in coopetition; to what degree coopetition can be linked to entrepreneurial
orientation and innovation; and which capabilities they need to successfully
Finally, although family firms constitute the backbone of virtually every economy
(Xi et al. 2013), we found no studies which explicitly analyze coopetition among
family firms (or between family and non-family firm competitors). As those firms

Coopetition: a systematic review, synthesis 595

are typically characterized by sometimes non-homo oeconomicus-like behavior as

well as by familiness (Habbershon et al. 2003) as an inherent resource,
coopetition behavior of family firms might differ from that of non-family firms, as
has also recently been found with innovation behavior (Kraus et al. 2012), which is
again connected to coopetition (see above). On the one hand, family firm- specific
characteristics can be expected to strengthen the firms engagement in coopetition,
as from an RBV perspective, coopetition might solve their problem of limited
resources (Sirmon and Hitt 2003). On the other hand, their strong identity and the
unique social system (Habbershon et al. 2003; Denison et al. 2004) might delimit
coopetitive behavior. Future research should study the occurrence of coopetition in
family firms and discover whether family involvement is a facilitating or hampering
factor and potentially also its influence on innovation.
Taken together, more research is needed to explore the contingencies that lead to
higher or lower coopetition engagement and performance of firms of different
industries, different sizes, different organizational forms, different types of
management etc.

4.2.3 Implications for innovation: coopetition to manage knowledge flows

In general, a positive influence of coopetition on innovation has been examined

empirically by several studies (see also Gast et al. 2015). However, empirical
findings like these are rare, as only seven of 16 studies on coopetitive innovation
have applied quantitative methods, and the context of these is mainly focused on
SMEs and MNEs, ignoring other contexts such as the start-up and family firm
context (see also above). Future research should analyze these other innovation
contexts and also specifically investigate the moderating effects, boundary
conditions, and cost-related aspects of coopetition. To this end, conducting case
studies of innovation failures and large-scale quantitative studies can be helpful.
Additionally, coopetition could be beneficial for different types of innovation.
While extant research has already looked at the influence on incremental and radical
innovation (Bouncken and Fredrich 2012) and technological diversity (Ritala and
Sainio 2014), other forms of innovation have not been at the center of attention, e.g.,
open innovation or social innovation. For example, there is an important link
between coopetition and open innovation, given that at its core open innovation is
about purposively managed knowledge flows across organizational boundaries
(Chesbrough and Bogers 2014, p. 17). In particular, the simultaneous co-existence
of cooperative and competitive interaction has an important connection to the
coupled mode of open innovation, which comprises an important and emerging part
of firms open innovation strategy (Enkel et al. 2009). Specific research is required
in this domain to better understand how coopetitive relationships in open innovation
facilitate or hamper either the creation or capture of value as part of the individual
actors business model (West and Bogers 2014).
We also observed that the tensions resulting from simultaneous knowledge
sharing and knowledge separation are special issues which have to be dealt with in
terms of coopetitive innovation. Only a few studies have explored possibilities to
protect core competencies, skills and knowledge from unintended transfers,

596 R. B. Bouncken et al.

although several scholars have called for a need to balance knowledge sharing and
withholding (Bengtsson and Kock 2000; Levy et al. 2003). Here, protection and
differentiation mechanisms such as formal arrangements or the strict division of
cooperative and competitive elements (Bengtsson and Kock 2000; Enberg 2012) are
necessary elements. Despite their importance, there has been little research
concerning the possibilities by which protection mechanisms can be implemented
within coopetitive innovation processes.

5 Conclusion

The past two decades have witnessed a steady growth of publications dedicated to
coopetition. As a result, the current body of literature is vast, but due to a focus on
certain research areas in this field, the literature base is still limited. At this point,
research is needed to obtain an overview and critically evaluate what has been
studied in this field and what has been left out. In this vein, this study has taken a
broad look at present accomplishments in coopetition research, demonstrating a
number of gaps which need to be addressed in forthcoming projects to advance our
understanding about coopetition strategy as an alternative to the traditional
strategies of competition and cooperation.
To examine the fields current state, we conducted a systematic literature review
which was based on a broad sample of 82 high-quality peer-reviewed scholarly
articles obtained through a rigorous data collection process. We synthesized the
literature according to three main general themes, namely: (1) the scope and
development of the research on coopetition (2) coopetition as a strategy, and (3) the
management of coopetition. Without claiming that these are the only streams in
coopetition research, we believe that these paths are major avenues in the current
literature base. As part of our synthesis, we proposed an integrative definition of
coopetition. In addition, based on our findings, we point out some weaknesses of
current research and suggest research directions for the future. In essence, based on
our synthesis, we consider an elaboration of theoretical and empirical approaches, a
focus on contextual contingencies, and implications for innovation that involves
interorganizational knowledge flows to be promising areas for future research.
As with every other study, this article has limitations that need to be
acknowledged. First of all, although it is comprehensive in its kind, the systematic
literature review could be criticized for not including all relevant work on
coopetition, hence taking a slim selection of publications as a starting point for the
analyses. However, through the rigorous procedure of our systematic data
collection, we developed a literature base representing as completely as possible
the prevailing and influential thoughts within coopetition research. Therefore, the
probability of having omitted critical studies that would have strongly altered the
main conclusion is limited. Additionally, this review does not pretend to have
incorporated all existing conceptual and empirical findings on specific areas within
the research field of coopetition. In point of fact, this paper portrays the central
structure, foundations, and the main avenues of coopetition research on the basis of
a broad sample of high-quality scholarly articles. Moreover, we recognize the

Coopetition: a systematic review, synthesis 597

limitations concerning the objectivity of the analyses results. Clearly, the choice of
data, the allocation of the main themes, and the interpretation of the results are
subjective. Other researchers might have conducted these steps in a different
manner, based on their individual and subjective assessments. To minimize this
issue of subjectivity, the multiple assessor method was applied. The individual
assessments were discussed until agreement was reached, and the present analysis
and interpretation represent the point of view of all linked researchers.
Overall, we believe that coopetition is more than a simple buzz word or just
another form of alliance research, describing the growing interorganizational
cooperative relationships between competing firms; it is an accepted and growing
stream of research in its own right on the intersection of strategy and several
neighboring research fields (such as e.g. innovation, management, entrepreneurship
etc.). Nevertheless, additional research is required to further explore its conceptu-
alization and its strategic applicability, as well as its management in different

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