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Balancing the tension between knowledge sharing and knowledge protection in coopetition: Empirical study of high-tech companies
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Umeå School of Business and Economics (USBE), Business Administration.
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Umeå School of Business and Economics (USBE), Business Administration.
2016 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

Coopetition, where companies cooperate with their competitors, is emerging as a prevalent phenomenon among high-tech companies since the end of 20th century. In contrast to traditional view of only competing, companies implement the strategy on the belief that “sometimes the best way to succeed is to let others do well, including your competitors". However, despite some benefits offered by coopetition, about half of coopetition failures. This challenges researchers and practitioners in finding reasons and solutions to improve the probability of success.


Several studies have pointed out that the tensions in the nature of this strategy are what lead to high failure rates. Tensions in this context are referred as simultaneously handling of contradictory-yet-interrelated forces such as cooperation versus competition, trust versus opportunism, and knowledge sharing versus knowledge protection. Due to both positive and negative influence of such tensions on coopetition, researchers suggest that coping with tensions is an effort of finding a balance between opposing forces, instead of reducing or eliminating them completely. However, it is widely admitted that how to strike the balance so far has not been answered with limitation of few empirical studies.


Coopetition is likely to involve the exchange of knowledge which is a fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information and expert insights. Knowledge is considered as critical resource creating value and promoting innovation, especially in high-tech industry. The need of knowledge is due to the fact that companies in this sector are technology-oriented and knowledge-based. Hence, it is suggested that the tension between knowledge sharing and protection is considered as one of the most significant tensions in coopetition for them. Accordingly, our focus in this study is proposing a mechanism that high-tech companies can use to balance the tension between knowledge sharing and knowledge protection when engaging in coopetition.


In order to achieve this purpose, we chose qualitative research method. The study further develops an inductive framework and explorative study design. We used primary data which we collected through a well-devised interview guide and conducted semi-structured interviews in six high-tech companies involved in coopetition.


Our key finding implies the importance of trust and Non-Disclosure Agreements in balancing the tension between knowledge sharing and knowledge protection in coopetition for high-tech companies. Trust serves as the means for enhancing knowledge sharing while Non-Disclosure Agreements is the formal system to support the trust and govern knowledge sharing and protection. Our finding also indicates that balancing the tension related to knowledge in coopetition for high-tech companies involves decision making processes where questions of whom to share with, what to share and under which condition to share are considered. These mechanisms are towards harmony orientation with three dimensions of enrichment of offered products/ services, bridging the needs of single party through collaboration and commitment, and synchronizing individual effort towards common goals.


This thesis contributes to knowledge management literature in coopetition. We propose a theoretical framework and provide some empirical evidence on how to attain harmony in mechanisms of balancing the tension between knowledge sharing and protection in coopetition. This accordingly assists managers in high-tech companies in appropriately planning for further success in coopetition. However, due to the small sample size of study, the mechanisms should be subject to further research. 


Keywords: balance, tension, knowledge sharing, knowledge protection, high-tech companies, coopetition, cooperating with competitors, harmony, Yin-Yang principles

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
National Category
Business Administration
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-123196OAI: diva2:943695
Educational program
Master's program in Business Development and Internationalisation
Available from: 2016-06-28 Created: 2016-06-28 Last updated: 2016-06-28Bibliographically approved

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