According to Dicken and Thrift (1992:286), inter-firm collaborative relationships ‘represent one of the major developments in the global economy of recent years…[and] have undoubtedly developed and proliferated dramatically. More than this, they are now central to the competitive strategies of virtually all large (and many smaller) corporations’. Emphasising this trend, Stiles (1994) suggested an increase in alliance formation in the European Union of approximately 400 per cent from 1990 to 1993, with similar trends in the USA and the Pacific Rim countries. This increase in the number and significance of inter-firm collaborative agreements during the 1980s and early 1990s has attracted considerable attention from researchers in various disciplines. Indeed, alliances have been of interest to writers in the fields of management (e.g. Miles and Snow, 1986; Pucik, 1988; Lewis, 1990; Powell, 1990; Shan, 1990; Stafford, 1994), industrial organisation (e.g. Ohmae, 1985; 1989; 1990; Contractor and Lorange, 1988; Hergert and Morris, 1988; Mowery, 1988; Gugler, 1992; Osland and Yaprak, 1993; 1995; Littler and Leverick, 1995), technology (e.g. Teece, 1986; Chesnais, 1988; Hagedoorn, 1993a; 1993b; 1995; Hagedoorn and Schakenraad, 1992; 1994; Segers, 1993; 1995), economics (e.g. Donckels and Lambrecht, 1995), sociology (e.g. Grabber, 1993) and geography (e.g. Cooke, 1988; 1992; Malecki, 1991; 1995; Sayer and Walker, 1992; Ahern, 1993a; 1993b).
Collaboration in industry is not new (Ohmae, 1985; Powell, 1987; Devlin and Bleackley, 1988; Pisano et al., 1988; Shan, 1990; Sayer and Walker, 1992; Cooke and Morgan, 1993; Dodgson, 1993; Grabber, 1993) and its incidence may well be of a cyclical nature, corresponding to macro-economic cycles (Culpan and Kostelac, 1993). However, the most recent wave of relationships does exhibit certain distinguishing characteristics (Yoshino and Rangan, 1995). Differences include the diversity of companies involved today (Pisano et al., 1988), the variety and complexity of organisational