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Journal of Innovation Economics & Management

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In the eighties there was renewed interest in the concept of a public-private partnership (PPP) with New Public Management. This mode of coordination was used in many sectors, particularly in the health sector. Some of these PPPs were set up with the explicit aim of innovation. We will describe these PPPs as innovation-oriented public-private partnerships (IPPPs). In the health sector, the time needed for research, the uncertain nature of this research, as well as the regulatory and competitive context, reinforce the need to share R&D costs and the process of designing new products. This sharing of costs and skills contributed to the development of the IPPPs.


In this same period (the eighties), the economic literature on innovation revealed an interactive representation of the innovation process, based on design, and no longer exclusively on science [1][1] According to the Larousse dictionary, science is a..., which differs from the linear and hierarchical representation of the innovation process, which has dominated the economic literature since the 1950s. This change in representations leads to several questions about the emergence and development of the IPPPs: with what understanding of innovation were these PPPs designed? Has this understanding changed? Is this interactive model, such as Kline and Rosenberg’s model (1986), sufficient to demonstrate the complexity of the innovation process in the IPPPs? This model represents progress in understanding innovation, but it also contains grey areas. For example, this model does not emphasise the external environmental context of the innovation process and finds it difficult to demonstrate the dynamic of innovation (Micaelli et al., 2014). Moreover, the literature devoted to IPPPs is at the intersection of many areas of research. Thus innovation in PPPs can be analysed by using theoretical approaches which are concerned with different innovation dynamics (examples: technological cooperation, innovation system, etc.).


The purpose of this work is firstly theoretical. It is to examine how the complexity of the IPPP concept results in its position at the intersection of many theoretical approaches. We will use the contributions of these different analytical perspectives to show the complexity of innovation in the IPPPs.


Having positioned the IPPP, this research proposes to analyse the complexity of the IPPPs’ innovation process using a case study. This study illustrates the different levels of complexity encountered by the IPPPs, and the need to use an interactive but also dynamic, analytical framework to demonstrate this.


This article is organised in four sections. In the first section, we explain the concept of innovation-oriented Public-Private Partnerships (IPPPs). We define the existing overlaps with the similar theoretical concept, the concept of the innovation network. In section two, we present the main approaches which study the process of innovation in the IPPPs, by defining how they are analysed. We will show that this literature is at the intersection of several disciplines. The following section presents a case study of an IPPP in the field of medical imaging [2][2] This study is based on the use of a case study carried.... The interactivity of the innovation process is analysed. In the final section, we discuss the complex nature of the IPPP innovation process and the need to make the analysis more dynamic. We examine the impact of the technical object at the centre of the innovation process on society.

Public-private interaction and IPPPs

IPPPs: origin and explanation


The concept of the PPP came back into fashion in the 1980s with New Public Management, but this form of public-private organisation has existed for a long time [3][3] According to Bezançon (1995), two major contracts were.... This theoretical movement explains the increased use of PPPs as a result of the State’s direct financial disengagement, and the idea which stated that the private sector’s management techniques were more efficient than public management when carrying out an economic activity. These techniques would lead to lower production costs and benefit from expertise that the government no longer possessed, as well as enjoying a more flexible structure (Lavenue, 2007; Giauque, 2009).


The perimeters of the concept of PPPs are not well established, and the definitions vary depending on the author (Iossa et al., 2008; Djellal, Gallouj, 2010). PPPs come in national, even sectoral, legal forms [4][4] For example, the Bail emphytéotique administratif hospitalier... (cf. Green paper, 2004). In France, the concept of a PPP can be understood in a broad sense or the narrower one of the order of June 17 2004 [5][5] In France, a broad meaning defines PPPs as “all the.... Giauque (2009, p. 385, our trans.) defines PPPs according to their major characteristics, which are, “cooperation between public actors, private actors and possibly associative actors; within which the different actors can achieve their own objectives, while working communally on the basis of potential synergies, by sharing responsibilities, opportunities and risks, on the basis of a formalised contract of cooperation”. Beyond the legal characterisation, PPPs describe relations between public and private actors, which differ according to several variables. For example, by the number of partners involved, the purpose of the partnership, the nature, intensity and length of the relationship between the actors linked to the partnership (Linder, 1999; Reich, 2002; Bradford, 2003; Saves, Scheid, 2008; Widdus et al., 2001; Wettenhall 2003; Mazouz et al., 2008; Djellal, Gallouj, 2010; Gallouj et al., 2013).


PPPs are partnerships aimed at creating infrastructure (the case of historical PPPs) or services (e.g. concession, joint ventures) [6][6] Issue 130 of the Revue Française d’Administration Publique..., or the combination of these two objectives. These production PPPs can result in innovation as the “joint product” of their activity (Djellal, Gallouj, 2010; Gallouj et al., 2013), but it is not usually their primary aim. Here we are concerned with IPPPs (innovation-oriented PPPs), in other words PPPs whose purpose, included in the formalisation of the partnership, is (also) explicitly innovation.


The literature devoted to PPPs, which tends to take a legal approach, is mainly about the effectiveness of this form of cooperation. Innovation may be addressed here, but it is addressed mainly as a legal form, or through the management of the PPP (De Saint-Pulgent, 2006). These studies reveal the importance of synergies between actors in the PPP when it is being established, but also in the governance and everyday management of the PPP (Giauque, 2009; Davoine, Deitmer, 2009; Gaudron, 2009). Coordination between people is a key element of the success (or failure) of the PPP (Préfontaine et al., 2009).


Studies which are more about the extent of innovation over and above the legal implications are found in network and systematic approaches, in which a broader dimension of the concept of partnerships is used: the concept of (public-private) innovation networks. Before presenting these studies, we propose to explain the shared points and the differences in these concepts.

IPPPs and Public Private Innovation Networks


As we have just pointed out, the IPPPs are particular cases of Public Private Innovation Networks (PPINs) (Djellal, Gallouj, 2010). PPINs describe the collaborations between public and private organisations in the field of innovation. These two concepts share the same aim: innovation. Their very name defines the focus on relations between public actors and private actors. In contrast, we should consider several differences: on the one hand, the degree to which the relationship is formalised, and on the other, the rationality which explains the partnerships (Djellal, Gallouj, 2010). In the IPPPs, the purpose of the contract is often more precise. Some of the aims of (co)production or providing a service are contractually entrusted to a private provider. The relationships are most often formalised (e.g. indication of the nature of the partnership, how it operates, sharing property rights). However, given the uncertain nature of innovation and the strategic behaviour of the actors, the contract may not always be complete. Moreover, some of the participants’ objectives and resources are not always fully “revealed” at the start (Giauque, 2009). Furthermore, the main rationality which explains the PPPs is the lower efficiency of the public sector. Using private resources (human, technical and financial) is therefore a way of resolving this (Djellal, Gallouj, 2010). On the contrary, the PPINs do not assume that a cooperative solution (public-private, public-public, etc.) is better than another solution. The PPINs are based on a cognitive explanation. However, this explanation is also true of IPPPs (unlike PPPs), in which the interaction between public and private actors can be a source of the production and dissemination of knowledge and innovation. These similarities between the two concepts make the literature on innovation networks indispensable in order to understand the innovation dynamic in IPPPs.


The PPINs that are most analysed by the economic literature are the technical networks, such as the Technological Research and Innovation Networks (TRINs), which allow private partners “to have access to some of the resources and infrastructure in the universities or public research institutes, and to access the skills which they do not have in-house”, and, for public researchers, “a partnership can provide new research questions, as well as new financing for more ambitious projects” (Davoine, Deitmer, 2009, p. 276, our trans.).


Depending on which meaning of the IPPP concept is adopted, there is a more or less significant extension to Innovation Networks, as the IPPPs are a subgroup of the PPINs. In this article we will use a broad definition of PPPs, insofar as IPPPs are not limited only to the 2004 Partnership contracts. On the other hand, unlike the majority of PPINs, the IPPPs examined here include an explicit dimension of contractualisation, relating to R&D and/or innovation.

Which analytical framework for the IPPPS?


There has long been collaboration by means of research and innovation contracts between universities, public research centres and the private sector [7][7] Feldman and Florida’s studies (1994) showed the importance.... These collaborations began well before PPPs became contractual instruments favoured by major European governments as part of the management of public-private relationships. Many examples of these collaborations concern the strategic sector of health [8][8] For example Catherine and Corrolleur (2001) highlight.... They take the form of an R&D alliance or of public-private technological platforms. Measures to promote university research were then taken more systematically in many industrialised countries in the 1980s (Etzkowitz, 1998; Menzies, 2000; OECD, 2001a). These measures improve universities’ entrepreneurial function (Laperche, 2002) [9][9] In particular they improve the use of research results,....


This development occurred at the same time as an improvement in how the process of innovation was represented. It was during this period that the process of developing innovation was considered to be as important in the innovation process as the research element (Dertouzos et al., 1990; Godin, 2006; Forest, 2010). This idea was notably modelled by Kline and Rosenberg (1986), who base the innovation process on design and highlight the importance of interactions between the different actors, on the one hand, and between the fields of research, knowledge and design, on the other. These interactions can occur at any time during the design process. There are frequent phenomena of irreversibility or of locked-in trajectories (Arthur, 1988). Innovation can come from improving and reconfiguring (a recombination) existing solutions without having to include a preliminary research stage (Clark, Henderson, 1990; Foray, 1994; Forest, 2010).


Although it is very illuminating on the mechanisms of producing innovation, nonetheless this model does not emphasise the external environmental context of the process of innovation, or the way in which the different levels of innovation systems interact (Micaelli et al., 2014). Consequently it does not show a certain number of dimensions of innovation in IPPPs. Some contemporary approaches highlight these dimensions more, and allow a better understanding of the complexity of innovation in the IPPPs. Analysis of the IPPPs is posed in different terms, depending on the approaches used to understand these (public economy, industrial and innovation economy, economic geography…). To demonstrate these approaches we propose to group them according to two analytical focuses. The first difference depends on the analytical level of the innovation under consideration (technological cooperation, the innovation system), the second depends on the complexity of innovation.

A difference in approaches to innovation depending on the partners’ analytical level


The IPPP concept is located at the intersection of several research areas. Depending on the purpose of the partnership, (e.g. the commercialisation of scientific research, the creation of a start-up, the integration of a cluster, sharing R&D or the acquisition of innovative shared equipment), and on the dimension of innovation which is the focus of attention (e.g. technological innovation, the system of interaction, the system of innovation), IPPPs can be analysed using different approaches. Here we present these approaches according to their favoured analytical level (the level of technological cooperation on innovation, or the system of innovation).



There is, then, a rich literature on cooperation on innovation (cf. Hagedoorn, 2002; Morrar et al., 2012), and particularly between public research and private industrial enterprises (Fritsch, Lukas, 2001; Cohen et al., 2002; Tether, Tajar 2008). This literature is not specific to IPPPs, the cases studied are generally broader, but the issues raised can be similar. These studies refer to cooperative processes, strategic behaviour, the determiners of cooperation, technological alliances, as well as evaluating the success of this cooperation. The problems of coordination between public and private actors are examined, such as the differentiated rationalities of the actors, the shortening of time horizons but also the role of uncertainty. In the health sector and in forms of collaboration in bio-medical innovation, these studies are often focused on technological innovation. These are often radical innovation projects with a high scientific and technical content. The aim of the collaborations is the search for economies of scale and of scope in research (Cockburn, Henderson, 2001; Depret, Hamdouch, 2001; Dupuy et al., 2009).

Literature on Innovation Systems


Some IPPPs, as a sub-group of the PPINs, are part of a productive and local innovation dynamic. The IPPPs are generally, but not exclusively, developed within a country. Studies relating to national innovation systems (Nelson, 1993) are applied to the innovation dynamics of these IPPPs. Freeman (1987) defines the NIS as the network of institutions in the public and private sector which allows new technologies to be modified and disseminated. Indeed, one of the indicators used to measure the existence of regional innovation systems is the creation of a company by university researchers (Djellal, Gallouj, 2010). Several OECD reports compare the efficiency of member countries’ NISs, and integrate case studies involving IPPPs (OECD, 1999, 2001b, 2003). The OECD points out that the use of PPPs differs according to country, and indicates that, in general, a better use of the research PPPs increases the synergies between the market and research (OECD 1999).


This systematic decoupling not only concerns national innovation systems but it can be seen in regional innovation systems, local innovation systems, technological or sectoral innovation systems. The PPINs are therefore the basis of these innovation systems (Depret, Hamdouch 2009; Djellal, Gallouj, 2010). The dynamics of learning, of absorption capacity, of economies of scale and of scope or of agglomeration, transaction costs, questions of positive externalities or network externalities, the appropriation and dissemination of knowledge are addressed here. This is also true of studies which are more broadly linked to the dimensions of physical, cognitive, organisational, social, institutional proximity (Boschma, 2005; Rallet, Torre, 2007; Bouba-Olga, Grosseti, 2008).


Of the systematic studies which are potentially about IPPPs, particular mention should be made of the “triple helix” model (Etzkowitz, Leydesdorff, 2000), of the “entrepreneurial university” (Clark, 1998), as well as the new production of knowledge (Gibbons et al., 1994). These knowledge development models are distinguished by their approach to change. Although the triple helix model suggests a historical continuity in the model of university development, Gibbons et al. (1994) sense a change in the way in which scientific knowledge is organised and transferred today, compared with the relationship which previously existed between the university world and society. They make the distinction between the method of producing knowledge before 1950, in which there was a division between the university world and society, and the new mode of knowledge production, which, in particular, involves a new interdisciplinarity, considerable researcher mobility, the formation of temporary groups of experts, or the primacy of economic and social problems in the decision to develop a particular sphere of knowledge (Shinn, 2002).


According to Etzkowitz (2003), the university was given the task of “economic and social development,” in addition to its two initial tasks (teaching and research). This third task formed part of a second university revolution, which transformed centres of research into quasi-enterprises. Activities were developed that were common to public and private institutions, and these led to hybridisations. This development led to organisational problems, which were mainly linked to conflicts of values between the university and the entrepreneurial spirit, such as the incompatibility of the university’s missions, responsibilities, expectations and resources (Sotirakou, 2004; Gierding et al., 2006). Learning would allow these institutions to adapt to constant change and to merge different rationalities (Gjerding et al., 2006). In order to be entrepreneurial, the university should have an organisational culture that favours the spirit of enterprise, and accept risk-taking.


University practices and entrepreneurial contexts differ depending on the country (Gjerding et al., 2006; OCDE, 2001 a, b). Thus the legal framework, and in particular the way in which the State organises the commercialisation of public research, has a strong influence on the forms in which public research is transferred to enterprises (and therefore on IPPPs). The Bayh-Dole Act, [10][10] The Bayh-Dole Act led to the formation of structures... adopted in 1980 in the United States, or the July 12 1999 law on innovation in France, improved the use of research results (Philippart, 2003). This kind of law helps to speed up the process, moving from the idea to the product (Laperche, 2002). As part of the 1999 law, public researchers alternately or simultaneously adhere to private sector operating rules (such as the requirement for a result, the emphasis placed on applied research, the demands of the market), while continuing to belong to the public institution [11][11] The law of July 1999 allows public researchers to move.... These laws favour the creation of enterprises by researchers, transforming them into “new scientific entrepreneurs” (Etzkowitz, 1998; Laperche, 2002). According to Laperche (2002), innovation policies are not sufficient to explain the process of commercialising research. Four key factors are identified for the commercialisation of research (described as the organic square of commercialisation): “regulations,” “university strategy,” “technical progress,” as well as “the economic milieu and the spirit of enterprise”.


R&D and innovation policies are inspired by these advances in the literature. Those responsible for research policies, who initially supported investment in R&D, are questioning the effectiveness of this support and making it conditional on results, focusing resources on specific contracts (OECD, 1998; Laperche, 2002). Finally, little by little, innovation clusters have become the preferred means of public action to support national competitiveness (Porter, 1998; OECD, 2001b; Forest, Hamdouch, 2009).


Studies on clusters (or on innovative milieux, technological districts, science and technology parks) have developed significantly in the last twenty years. These studies reveal a growing interest in the phenomena of localisation, industrial organisation and the dissemination of innovation (Leroux, Berro, 2010; Krugman 1991; Brezis et al., 1993; Porter, 1998). They help to understand the innovation process in IPPPs in several respects: the creation of an IPPP can be linked to the emergence of a cluster but, more frequently, the partners use the opportunities associated with this industrial policy (benefiting from the visibility that membership of a cluster provides), to obtain funding for their project (in particular venture capital) [12][12] The alliances between enterprises and universities..., and to benefit from additional resources and innovation dynamics linked to already existing clusters (dissemination of knowledge, the search for economies of scale, technological externalities and, more broadly, economies of agglomeration) (Catherine, Corroleur, 2001; Forest, Hamdouch, 2009).


Some of the literature on clusters analyses the relationships of cooperation and competition between the partners. This research concerns the way in which public and private actors interact and liaise, thus encouraging the development of specific scientific or technological local or regional spaces (Hamdouch, 2008; Forest, Hamdouch, 2009). These approaches concern the role of the star scientists in creating enterprises (Mangematin et al., 2003; Carpentier et al., 2007; Leroux, Berro, 2010). Indeed, a section of the IPPPs, between a public researcher and the private sector, is initiated by the star scientists (Zucker, Darby, 1996), or serial entrepreneurs, in other words partnerships whose development is explained by the researcher’s personality and scientific skills (Catherine, Corroleur, 2001). These skills should, however, be combined with managerial skills, which these researchers acquire from the private sector, which explains the creation of the IPPP.


In the health sector this literature focuses mainly on the High-Tech sectors. But these sectors are characterised by their high level of R&D, the development of new technological trajectories, as well as the development of radical innovations (Zeller, 2001; Cooke, 2002; Depret, Hamdouch, 2009). Consequently these studies do not take into account all cases of IPPPs, as some IPPPs in the health sector are based on a less “ambitious” project, such as the acquisition or sharing of innovative equipment, the purpose of which is directed more at reducing costs than at a logic of knowledge production. The literature on clusters distinguishes industrial clusters from innovation clusters [13][13] The innovation clusters are “a set of organisations.... In innovation clusters the emphasis is not on the economies associated with production, but on networks of innovation which allow the dissemination of explicit or tacit knowledge (Forest, Hamdouch, 2009).


This kind of disassociation (cost reduction vs. knowledge dissemination) could be used to differentiate the IPPPs depending on the object of the innovation which is the focus of the contract (for example the simple adoption of technological innovation, or the formation of an innovation network), and could therefore supplement the criteria which we present in the following point.

An analysis of IPPPs through the subject of innovation


In order to supplement this review of the literature on IPPPs, we report here on the studies which favour an analytical focus on the object of innovation, rather than on the system (even if this is not precluded from the analysis). These studies are not completely independent of the first categorisation presented, but they are useful to give another analytical perspective of the complexity of innovation in IPPPs.


Amongst these studies Djellal and Gallouj (2010); Gallouj et al., (2013) differentiate IPPPs according to the “complexity” of the innovation that they produce. In ascending order of complexity, it is possible to separate simple IPPPs with a focus on technology adoption; simple IPPPs with a focus on the production of technological innovation; simple IPPPs with a focus on the production of non-technological innovation (characterised by the immateriality of the innovations implemented, the important role played by tacit knowledge and technology, by the diversity of the actors involved); and finally complex architectural IPPPs (in Clark and Henderson’s meaning, 1990). In this categorisation what distinguishes a simple IPPP from a complex IPPP is the number of objects of innovation. There is a single object in the case of simple IPPPs (an innovation of product, of process, an organisational innovation), while complex IPPPs are characterised by a “combination” of objects of innovation. The innovations established consist of complex and multiform groups of innovations and learning processes (Anatole-Touzet, Souffir, 1996; Gallouj et al., 2013). They produce new shared norms of behaviour, new modes of organising innovation, or new methods of working. There are many forms and configurations of potential innovation (innovations of product, process, market, organisational, strategic, social, technical, material, service methodological, cognitive innovations, etc.) (Djellal, Gallouj, 2005; Djellal, Gallouj, 2008). This categorisation also builds on the formalisation of cooperation. The evolution is from a simple explicit contract (simple IPPPs of adoption) to a combination of implicit and explicit contracts (complex or architectural IPPPs).


A link can be established between this analytical perspective and that presented in the previous point by categorising the empirical studies devoted to IPPPs. Thus the studies on innovation networks and systems: Technical-economic networks (Callon, 1991; Hakansson, Snehota, 1997), National, local or sectoral innovation systems (Lundvall, 1992; Nelson, 1993; Edquist, 1997; Breschi, Malerba, 2005), clusters (Porter, 1990), R&D partnerships (Davoine, Deitmer, 2009; Bobay, Mauguen, 2004), mainly give examples of simple IPPPs of innovation production (Djellal, Gallouj, 2010). There are far fewer illustrations of simple IPPPs of non-technological innovation production (organisational, social, methodological). In fact the economic literature on IPPPs (and more generally on innovation networks) suffers from a technologist, industrialist and commercial bias, which has guided research on scientific and technological innovation (Djellal, Gallouj, 2010; Morrar et al., 2012). In the health sector, studies on non-technological IPPPs are mainly about the constitution of innovative care networks (Billard, 2001; Rapiau, Riondet, 2004; Domin, 2002), linking doctors in private practice and hospital doctors. These innovative networks can be limited to the micro-local level or can be extended to a regional, even a national, area. Few studies have yet been devoted to complex architectural IPPPs (which represent an organisational meta-change), referring to the previous IPPPs. However, it is possible to demonstrate innovation deriving from this kind of IPPP by using an approach in terms of the characteristics of the product (Gallouj et al., 2013).


Another kind of promising study, equally based on the object of innovation but also on the system, tries to improve Kline and Rosenberg’s chain-linked model (1986) by representing the innovation systems as a combination of “building blocks”, according to the diagrammatic language used in the engineering field (Micaëlli et al., 2014). This model has the advantage of demonstrating the external system which favours innovation (such as the regulatory system, the educational system, infrastructure), which is particularly interesting in the case of IPPPs. However, like the interactive model, this model remains limited in terms of its ability to demonstrate the dynamic of innovation.

Case study: supersonic imagine


The case study presented here concerns an IPPP in the health sector, the object of which is the development and marketing of a new medical imaging machine, which makes it possible to take a colour image of the elasticity of the human body [14][14] Supersonic Imagine was established in 2005 and is located.... This technology is based on basic research. It allows tumours that are deep or which cannot be observed by palpation to be diagnosed early, in particular in relation to breast cancer. Innovation has a socio-economic character: improving patient diagnosis. It also helps the patient to understand the illness. This partnership between a research laboratory and an entrepreneur is enshrined in the 1999 law on innovation.


The empirical data come from semi-directive interviews carried out between 2008 and 2009 [15][15] Five studies on IPPPs were carried out as part of the.... These interviews have helped to understand the process by which the partnership emerged, and to identify the determiners, the facilitators, the actors, the obstacles and more generally the innovation process of this innovative project. Questioning the different actors in the partnership enables us to understand all the dynamics of innovation, and to reinforce the validity of the data collected. These data were supplemented by reading the internal documents of the company (brochures presenting the company, press reviews, etc.). In these documents, the factors favouring and/or restricting innovation were examined in a systematic way.

History and explanations of the partnership entered into


The initial idea for creating a new, more accurate, medical imaging machine was public laboratory research on ultrasound (here applied to measuring the hardness of human tissue). In order to test the feasibility of this innovation, the public laboratory first created a prototype echograph using this technology, and carried out the first preliminary clinical trials, in collaboration with the Institut Curie. The public laboratory then decided to enter into an IPPP for several reasons. First, in order to finalise the technical development of the echograph (improving the rate at which the image is obtained), the public partner needed computer skills which the private partner possessed (with the support of computer engineers). Then, in order to develop this product, the team of researchers had to join with people who were familiar with the field of medical imaging. In fact this market is tightly regulated (technical and medical legislation), and bringing these machines to market means that European and American standards have to be met. Entrepreneurial skills are also necessary to raise finance and to set up the company. The search for these skills is often one of thereasons for public-private cooperation (Catherine, Corolleur, 2001). These entrepreneurial skills and knowledge of the medical imaging field were the reasons for choosing a private partner [16][16] The private partner was formerly responsible for the..., which agreed to form a team to create a start-up in 2005 (Supersonic Imagine). This entrepreneur was responsible for technical expertise and provided its skills in marketing the product and seeking funding. By presenting and supporting the project, it therefore helped the public partner to find funding from the French government [17][17] The latest funding raised (April 2013) was 28 million... (Provence Promotion; Impulse; EuroStar; ANVAR (Oséo), Ministry of Industry, FSI; Territorial Development Agency), private shareholders (Auriga Partners; Crédit Agricole Private Equity (Omnes Capital); NBGI Ventures (National Bank of Greece Investment); BioAM (CDC entreprises); Edmond de Rothschild investment partners; Wellington partners; Merieux développement; Canon; Innobio (CDC entreprises), Alto, KLSC (Kuwait Life Science Company), IRDI), as well as competitiveness clusters (Optitec, Medicen). The company benefited from laws supporting innovation and project financing, such as the status of young innovative enterprise, or the research tax credit. After a phase of clinical trials carried out at 17 sites in 2007, in 2009 the firm obtained a European Community licence to sell the product.


The second important element leading to the choice of an IPPP is the administrative situation which has an effect on public researchers, who cannot directly set up their own company, but only participate in this once the company has been established [18][18] Catherine and Corroleur (2001) point out that part.... Insofar as the law does not allow researchers to set up their own company, this innovative project could not have been realised without a support structure. Two solutions were possible: either to set up a company, or to use the infrastructure of an existing company. But the three major businesses which share the market for medical imaging (General Electric, Philips Medical Systems and Siemens), refused to develop this innovation as they believed that this strategy involved too many risks. First, the risks linked to any innovation (since few clinical trials have been carried out), but also the risks linked to possible competition with existing products. This competitive and industrial environment is an important determiner in innovation and the creation of an IPPP. In fact, a start-up’s ability to react when confronted by industrial giants is an important factor for success. The administrative context is therefore an important determiner for the formation of the IPPP. For this reason, IPPPs generally seem to be initiated according to a descending logic (or top-down), since in order to be created they need the authorisation of the institutions on which they depend (such as the CNRS in the case study). However, it is possible to consider that some of these IPPPs are also influenced by an ascending logic, or “bottom-up”. In fact sharing expertise, or the complexity of the partnership, require everyday innovation dynamics, and result in logics of local learning processes (Gallouj et al., 2013). Moreover, the actors participating in the projects behave in an entrepreneurial way, without which the IPPPs could not happen. In the proposed case study, the full involvement of the private partner, and the entrepreneurial skills that it offers, confirms the bottom-up nature of this partnership.

Innovation at Supersonic Imagine, the result of an interactive process


Kline and Rosenberg’s chain-linked model (1986) is very useful to demonstrate the interactivity of the innovation process, which characterises the innovation under consideration. Most of the elements of the model are to be found in the case study.

  • The innovation process is more a part of the process of design than the pathway to develop a new science. The radical nature of this innovative project is achieved thanks to the combination of new knowledge (by the public laboratory) with existing technologies (improvements in the rate of obtaining the image), provided by the private partner and its team. In other words, it is the design phase which transforms this research into innovation. It requires regular calls on research and existing knowledge.

  • The connection between R&D and requirements: in the medical or biotechnology field it is not uncommon for the theoretical and practical aspects to be combined, which makes it easier to commercialise the results (Laperche, 2002). In the proposed case study, the existence of a basic research stage is undeniable; it has, in fact, produced patents. However, this research has never been disconnected from potential applications. Thus there is a simultaneity between the theoretical reflections and their application in a potential market. This way of proceeding relates to the policy of the public laboratory itself [19][19] “A permanent balance between fundamental physics and.... In the case studied, the research carried out by the public laboratory is designed for continued potential applications (in accordance with a spin-off process, Saives et al., 2005). In fact, the basic research on which the echograph is based was also applied to requirements in the fields of multimedia, communications and mobile telephony. These applications led to the establishment of several companies [20][20] Creation of the Sensitive Object company in 2003 (multimedia),....

  • It was necessary to go back and forth between the different phases of the innovation process. The practical nature of the research was very quickly tested on patients at the Marie Curie Institute by the laboratory’s researchers, before the IPPP was formed. Besides, in the health sector, equipment should be tested in accordance with the procedures applied by doctors in private practice and hospital doctors, in order to validate the improvements obtained in clinical terms with a tested population. This approach requires feedback loops between the users of the machine and the designers of the innovation. These feedback loops are supported by learning phenomena. Learning to use the echograph, on the one hand, but also the routines developed as part of a process of innovation. In fact this echograph will then be adapted to illnesses relating to other kinds of organs (thyroid, prostate, liver, Muscle-tendons, Obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, vascular, etc.), but the innovative process behind the echograph is also used to develop equipment in other sectors [21][21] Apart from the medical applications, as we have just....

  • The feedback between the innovation process and scientific reflection, and the reapplication of knowledge produced by the different applications, is institutionalised in the contracts. Thus Supersonic Imagine has developed cooperation agreements with the public laboratory, as well as with other public laboratories on certain subjects. The company also recruits young researchers from these laboratories.


Although Kline and Rosenberg’s interactive model (1986) allows us to explain the innovation process, by emphasising that this is not linear and that the design forms the central link of the process, in contrast it only partially takes account of the complexity of the IPPPs, to the extent that it does not pay enough attention to the external environmental situation and its factors of stimulation (Micaëlli et al., 2014).

A complex and dynamic innovation process


The complexity of the innovation process inherent in the IPPPs goes beyond the framework of Kline and Rosenberg’s interactive model (1986). In this point we propose to reflect on the influence of the environmental context of the IPPPs, the process of coordination between actors and their rationality, the life cycle of innovation, as well as the dynamic of the innovation produced.

Public supervision and understanding innovation


The influence of the supervisory authority is important when commercialising academic research. It partly determines the links between the university and society (Gibbons et al., 1994; Etzkowitz, Leydesdorff, 2000). In the French case, the 1999 law on innovation shows the desire to improve the efficiency of these links, by not limiting support to the R&D phase but by extending it to the process of innovation design. This law gave an impetus to the commercial realisation of innovations, thanks to the IPPPs. These partnerships, approved by the supervisory authority, favour interactivity throughout the innovation process. This is also true of the cooperation agreements established in turn between the private company and the public laboratories on the development of certain subjects for research. Some fiscal provisions to support innovation, such as the status of young innovative enterprise or the research tax credit, facilitate the company’s overall innovation process. The efficiency of public-private relationships could still be improved in France, by making it easier for researchers to be involved in the life cycle of their innovations. Furthermore, the improvement in university practices on industrial protection favours entrepreneurship and the commercialisation of French research. On the other hand, frequently calling on shareholders to fund innovative projects reduces the possibilities for future research applications, insofar as these actors prefer to make the first generation of innovation profitable.

Time-related process and networks of actors


The IPPPs are gradually becoming formalised through the synergy between actors (Davoine, Deitmer, 2009; Préfontaine et al., 2009), and the institutionalisation of work routines. Yet the PPP partners have different skills and identities, many, sometimes opposing, objectives, and complex relationships. This need for synergy between the actors is especially important as it involves an IPPP. The multiple positioning of the public actor reinforces the complexity of the cooperation. When creating a company, the public partner has a role that is at once researcher, civil servant, and entrepreneur. Each role involves different and sometimes opposing constraints (Philippart, 2003). The PPPs require arrangements which take account of the culture and constraints of the public actor and the private actor, who do not adhere to the same time frame [22][22] The time frame is not necessarily the same between.... These are sequential coordination processes which increase in accordance with the degree of complexity of the IPPP (Gallouj et al., 2013).


This formalisation also involves networks of actors who temporarily or permanently join the IPPP. Thus in the case studied, apart from the first actors who played the role of “catalysts” of the IPPP, other actors joined the venture, either as direct collaborators or as partners of this company (e.g. other researchers, doctors carrying out procedures, financiers, hospitals…). Furthermore, the planned collaboration does not stop when the technical object has been achieved. Other research applications are in the process of being realised. The formalisation of the partnership is therefore a complex process. The rationality applied when creating the partnership is a procedural rationality to the extent that the aims of the IPPP are readjusted, depending on the progress made (Gallouj et al., 2013). Furthermore, the collaborations within a network, or an IPPP as here, have often come from the partners’ social network (Catherine, Corolleur, 2001; Bes, Grosseti, 2002). In our case study, the actors’ social network was the determiner for the creation of the IPPP, as the two partners had known each other for many years [23][23] The industrial partner, coming from the private sector,.... The trust between the actors helped to speed up the innovation design phase. It facilitates interaction between the teams and avoids power struggles. The start-up collaborators were also recruited through the knowledge network of actors in the IPPP [24][24] Some collaborators worked in one of the major competitors.... Moreover, in collaborations there is also a certain personification of relations, which relates to the involvement of one or more actors belonging to two networks (Bes, Grosseti, 2002). This is the case here with a PhD student from the laboratory, recruited by the company. Finally, according to our interviews, it is again the human dimension and in particular the multicultural nature of the company’s actors [25][25] The company developed subsidiaries in several countries... which allows the innovation dynamic of the company to be extended beyond the initial “technical object,” by the design of new products (new innovation applications). This collaborator multiculturality is interesting, not only in terms of scientific skills and expertise, but also because of the different working methods or the way of addressing problems.


Although the pathways of the chain-link model for the most part enable us to represent the history of the project, the diversity of the actors, the collaborators in many countries and the different time frames complicate the initial plan. The formalisation of the innovation process should consider the different project teams which take part in the innovation process, knowing that the “central chain” involved in innovation is enriched by possible new applications.

Life cycle of innovation


The analysis of the innovation process can be made more dynamic by identifying the life cycles associated with the partnerships. Firstly, innovation follows a financial cycle that has long been described by the economic literature (Depret, Hamdouch, 2004; Fisken, Rutherford, 2002), linked to the funding requirements of companies that are being created. Djellal and Gallouj (2010) highlight another possible life cycle of the partnerships (or PPINs) linked to the dominance of public or private partners in the network. In the case of the PPIN, these authors identify three phases during which the actors which dominate the network change. In an initial phase it is public actors, key network actors, who dominate (universities, public research centres). In a second phase, as the network develops, it is private firms. Finally, phase 3 sees a decline in participation by public actors. With the commercialisation of research by a researcher-entrepreneur, the innovation law establishes this phenomenon, to a certain extent, because the secondment or the delegation of the public actor to the company, or his involvement in the private company, can only be extended a certain number of times. Finally, it is possible to identify a cycle linked to the “governance practised by a researcher in an innovation-oriented activity” (Saives et al., 2005, p. 158, our trans.). These authors propose a categorisation of firms (in the case of biotechnology firms), depending on the context of the creation of the company, the type of funding chosen, as well as the logics of governance used (pre-entrepreneurial, entrepreneurial and managerial). This approach to a certain extent summarises the life cycles presented previously. The case study presented tends to be in keeping with the “process of university spin-offs”.

The innovation dynamic created


Up to now, we have focused on the innovation process surrounding an innovation “result”, which is the development of a new echograph. It is interesting to ask about the position and the impact of technical tools on society, and the associated forms of innovation.


The linear or even interactive model, or the analysis of national innovation systems, limit their analysis to the technical innovation of the product and the process (Djellal, Gallouj, 2010; Edquist, 1997; Miles, 2002). The non-technological forms of innovation, such as organisational, institutional, or social innovations, are not necessarily considered. The IPPP presented here does not avoid this analysis. However, the impact of technical or clinical improvement can be much broader, and can change user behaviour or even the service relationship, as well as developments in the quality of services provided. The analysis of innovation should be expanded to the socio-economic dynamic thus produced. Our case study enables us to show that even a process based on technological innovations can produce non technological impacts, such as organisational or social innovations, for example. Moreover, in this way we can highlight the question of the diversity of actors who are able to take action on innovation.


Some authors consider the constitution of a PPP to be an innovative form of organisation (Hafsi, 2009). The PPP is a long-term partnership which creates work routines. In this way, organisational innovations (considered by our interviews, but not studied here), could have emerged from interactions between actors. For example, in the case study the participation of collaborators from different spheres (institutional or geographical) requires the creation of coordination methods, and can change work routines. In addition, in order to develop the company’s technological strategy, structures such as a technology reflection committee, or product development teams, were set up. The integration of other actors or collaborators into this partnership, the development of innovation networks, increase the opportunities to innovate through working methods (public-private and multicultural). The initial innovation can also lead to other innovation process sequences and other applications of the technical tool. In the proposed case study, the validation of the machine is strengthened by the application of procedures, and new equipment adaptations are planned to diagnose other kinds of illness (liver, heart, thyroid, prostate, etc.).


In the case of a medical technical tool, which supports service delivery, the innovation process can include a significant dimension of co-production with the users of the technology. In this case, the new echograph is tested by hospitals and doctors as part of the procedures. The use of innovation (the new echograph) creates a phenomenon of learning about the technical tool, as well as the prospects for developing the service. There is therefore a significant number of actors who could potentially influence improvements in innovation. This co-production mainly concerns the medical staff using the technical tool but also the patients, to the extent that service delivery is changed by this tool. The technical tool can also in a way lead to an extension of the innovation process in medical practice. This technological support greatly improves the doctors’ service delivery, and can even eventually transform this. It improves the diagnosis of illness and can make the quality of service delivery better, less invasive (reduction in the number of biopsies). It makes examinations more accessible, thanks to the didactic image (blue if it is benign, red if it is not), which either helps to reassure patients, or ensures that they absorb their illness, thus changing the doctor-patient relationship in terms of their illness.


The innovation process therefore extends (or continues) at the level of the routines of actors in the partnership, as well as at the level of the doctors’ service delivery. The technical object is the source of service innovations, organisational, methodological or cognitive innovations. These innovations can contribute to calls on the producer of the echograph to modify the product.



The aim of this article is to highlight the complexity of the innovation process used in the IPPPs. In the IPPPs innovation, or the innovation process used, is clearly part of the aims of these partnerships. Thus there are different reasons relating to innovation, (which can be cumulative), for establishing these IPPPs, such as a public-private collaboration in order to develop expertise, to reduce costs (adopting a technology, research, for example), to share the risks linked to innovation, to initiate longer timescales for research, to circumvent the legal constraints on public researchers, to develop a start-up, or to create an R&D network dynamic.


Unlike the collaborations between private partners or innovation networks, as soon as they emerge IPPPs are subject to the supervision of the institution which the public partner is from, or are initiated directly by the government. This characteristic has an influence on the innovation process. The partnership entered into is more formalised, and the forms of collaboration depend on the regulatory and institutional situation of the public supervisory authority. This situation changes depending on the progress made in understanding the innovation process. Thus governments are no longer content to support the R&D stage, but apply measures which help to favour the innovation design process and network dynamics.


Using an interactive representation of the innovation process is necessary to understand the innovation dynamic used in the IPPPs. In fact, even for IPPPs which are the result of a scientific discovery, science is often not the exclusive factor of innovation. Furthermore, much of the research carried out by academic partners concerns potential applications. Thus, in order to finalise innovation, a process of innovation design is usually not only initiated from a technical viewpoint, but also from a socio-economic perspective. In the health sector, this design process is especially important, as bringing equipment or medicines to market has to be approved beforehand by the medical authorities.


Although necessary to understand the innovation processes, the interactive approach to innovation is not enough to explain the whole innovation process of an IPPP. There are many IPPP determiners of innovation, and these depend on the environmental context (socio-economic, institutional, regulatory) in force in the country involved. These determiners have an impact on the form that these collaborations will take.


Moreover, these IPPPs have a process of innovation dynamic which is not necessarily highlighted by this kind of approach. The IPPPs, as sub-groups of the PPINs, can be studied by the systemic and network literature. This analytical perspective allows us to better understand the IPPP thanks to the use of the concept of networks of actors and the knowledge economy. Other approaches, in terms of the characteristics of the product, are more able to demonstrate innovation itself. The analytical focus of this second kind of approach can however be widened to include networks of actors, and to understand the complex and multiform nature of innovation in the IPPPs.


These theoretical approaches help to better understand the forms of proximity between actors, the role of social networks, the nature of actors and their particular rationality, the respective position of actors in the innovation process, as well as the mechanism through which the IPPP appears, the role of public policies and the regulatory context supporting the IPPP, and finally the dynamic of innovation (innovation life cycles) and of the partnership in a network (clustering logic, etc.). In the case of developing a new product, the innovation dynamic is not limited to this technical object, or to a service, but it goes beyond the time-related limits for finalising this product. The innovation process that is established builds research networks which can lead to other innovative processes, even to a reappraisal of the existing process. Understanding the innovation process and its consequences goes beyond the finalisation of the technical tool. In particular, the use of this “service support” tool can transform associated service provision and the relationship with the client.


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According to the Larousse dictionary, science is a “consistent set of knowledge relating to certain categories of facts, objects or phenomena conforming to laws and/or verified by experimental methods” (our trans.). The design, itself, forms “a ‘bottleneck’ because it guarantees either the success or the failure of innovation” (Forest et al. 1997, p. 6, our trans.). Thus the design is “Depending on the context, [the]action, [the]activity, [the]process which allows a response over time to a need which cannot be satisfied immediately” (Forest, Micaëlli, 2003, p. 248, our trans.). The definitions of the design are very similar to those of the innovation process. Perrin (2001, p. 19, our trans.) defines product design as “all the activities and the processes which allow one to move from the idea of a new product (or the improvement of an existing product) to providing all the information (plans, specifications, software…) which allow this product to be produced, and ensure its use and maintainability”.


This study is based on the use of a case study carried out as part of the European ServPPIN project: The Contribution of Public and Private Services to European Growth and Welfare, and the Role of Public-Private Innovation Networks.


According to Bezançon (1995), two major contracts were developed in France at the beginning of the 17th century in the areas of paving the streets of Paris (Claude Voisin lease in 1604) and the removal of household waste (Duchat lease in 1607).


For example, the Bail emphytéotique administratif hospitalier (BEAH) [Emphyteutic Hospital Administrative Lease] in the hospital sector.


In France, a broad meaning defines PPPs as “all the forms of association of the public sector and the private sector aimed at implementing all or part of a public service. These relations are contained in the framework of long-term contracts: in this they differ from privatisations and subcontracting” (Marty et al., 2006, p. 86, our trans.). In the narrow sense, partnership contracts are administrative contracts by which the State or public body of the State entrusts to a third party, for a period defined by the length of amortisation of investments or the methods of financing used, a global mission relating to funding intangible investment, the structures or equipment needed for public service, the construction or transformation of structures or equipment, as well as to conserve these, their maintenance, operation or management and, where necessary, the provision of other services which assist the public entity to carry out the public service remit for which it is responsible.


Issue 130 of the Revue Française d’Administration Publique (2009) [French Journal of Public Administration], devoted to the management of PPPs, proposes several examples of production PPPs.


Feldman and Florida’s studies (1994) showed the importance of technological infrastructure, as well as proximity between university (e.g. the NSF) and the private sector on innovation, notably in the case of PMEs (Feldman, 1994). More generally some authors have highlighted the consequences of academic R&D for the private sector in the USA and Europe (Acz et al., 1992; Feldman, Lichtenberg, 1998).


For example Catherine and Corrolleur (2001) highlight the role of the NIHs in the USA in biotechnology research; Finardi (2013); Mangematin et al., (2007) analyse the role of the CEA-LETI in France in the development of nanotechnology clusters.


In particular they improve the use of research results, facilitate the creation of scientific and technical networks combining companies and universities, changes in the status of researcher, the creation of institutions to innovative projects to emerge (Laperche, 2002).


The Bayh-Dole Act led to the formation of structures dedicated to commercialising research in American universities, the Technological Transfer Offices, which establish partnership agreements between universities and/or enterprises (Cooperative Research Development Agreement). In the biomedical field, federal agencies like the NIH and the FDA granted more licences for patents from in-house research than before (Carpentier et al., 2007).


The law of July 1999 allows public researchers to move within an enterprise, and enables the researcher with the position of civil servant to establish an enterprise to commercialise his work, but under certain conditions. This system requires the authorisation and supervision of his regulatory authority. Articles 25-1 of the law of 15 July 1982, amended by the law of 12 July 1999, and indirectly Articles 15-2 and 25-3 of this law, propose several possible positions for the public researcher. An agreement is then signed between the enterprise concerned and the public research organisation (Philippart, 2003).


The alliances between enterprises and universities are an indication of the quality of research for venture capital companies (Audretsch, Stephan, 1996).


The innovation clusters are “a set of organisations and institutions defined by their nature and by their location, which interact formally and/or informally through various inter-organisational and inter-individual networks, and which contribute to realising innovations in a given area of activity” (Hamdouch, 2008, p. 33, our trans.).


Supersonic Imagine was established in 2005 and is located in Aix-en-Provence (France). In 2012, its turnover increased to 14 million euros, the number of its employees rose in 2012 to 125. The echograph was launched commercially in 2009 and was originally used for breast screening. Number of patents: 20 patents and 10 co-patents CNRS (Langevin Institut).


Five studies on IPPPs were carried out as part of the European ServPPIN project. In the IPPPs presented here, five interviews were carried out with the main key actors in the partnership (the manager of the company, the laboratory behind the innovation, or the main collaborators).


The private partner was formerly responsible for the strategic and technological development of Philips Medical Systems.


The latest funding raised (April 2013) was 28 million euros including 14 million euros from the Fonds stratégique d’investissement (FSI) [Strategic Investment Fund], which takes the amounts raised by the company to almost 99 million euros in all.


Catherine and Corroleur (2001) point out that part of France’s delay in the appearance of new biotechnology companies is related to public research standards and the status of lecturer-researcher.


A permanent balance between fundamental physics and applications. […] In the field of applications, our laboratory has acquired long experience of collaboration with the industrial world. We are working with several companies from various sectors” (our trans.), referred to 8/11/2013.


Creation of the Sensitive Object company in 2003 (multimedia), or the Time Reversal Communications company in 2008 (mobile telephony).


Apart from the medical applications, as we have just seen, this process applies to multimedia or to communications in mobile telephony.


The time frame is not necessarily the same between private providers (short time frame) and public providers (long time frame) (Giauque, 2009). For example, the process of academic evaluation of publications is not necessarily compatible with depositing a patent, whether this is done by the public institution or the private company.


The industrial partner, coming from the private sector, working in the field of medical imaging, was confident of the project’s potential, even if few tests had been carried out, even though the medical imaging company on which it depended did not take this risk. The public provider trusted the skills of the private provider, which had already established different start-ups.


Some collaborators worked in one of the major competitors in the field of medical imaging. They were taken on by the private partner, which also came from the same company.


The company developed subsidiaries in several countries (Germany, UK, USA, China – Hong Kong and Beijing).



The aim of this article is to highlight the complexity of the process of innovation used in innovation-oriented public-private partnerships (IPPPs). The characterization of the IPPPs results in the analysis of innovation in IPPPs being positioned at the intersection of many theoretical approaches. This article shows that an interactive representation of innovation, based on design, although useful for studying the innovation process, is however not sufficient to demonstrate the environmental context and the innovation dynamic of the IPPPs. This research proposes an analysis of the complexity of the innovation process of IPPPs by using a case study. This study illustrates the different levels of complexity encountered by the IPPPs, and the need to use an interactive, but also dynamic, analytical framework in order to demonstrate this.
JEL codes: I1, O3

Key words

  • innovation
  • public private partnership
  • innovation-oriented public-private partnerships
  • design
  • interactive model
  • health

Plan de l'article

  1. Public-private interaction and IPPPs
    1. IPPPs: origin and explanation
    2. IPPPs and Public Private Innovation Networks
  2. Which analytical framework for the IPPPS?
    1. A difference in approaches to innovation depending on the partners’ analytical level
      1. Cooperation
      2. Literature on Innovation Systems
    2. An analysis of IPPPs through the subject of innovation
  3. Case study: supersonic imagine
    1. History and explanations of the partnership entered into
    2. Innovation at Supersonic Imagine, the result of an interactive process
  4. A complex and dynamic innovation process
    1. Public supervision and understanding innovation
    2. Time-related process and networks of actors
    3. Life cycle of innovation
    4. The innovation dynamic created
  5. Conclusion

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