The sale of R&D projects through licensing facilitates the division of labor between research and development activities. This vertical specialization can improve the overall efficiency of the innovative process. However, these gains depend on the timing of the sale: the buyer of an R&D project should assume development at the stage at which he has an efficiency advantage. We show that in an environment where the seller is overconfident about the value of the project, she may delay the sale to the more efficient firm in order to provide verifiable information about its quality, though this delay implies higher total development costs for the project. We obtain a condition for the equilibrium timing of licensing and examine how factors such as the intensity of competition between potential buyers influence it. We show that a wide array of different explanations, based on differences in information, beliefs or risk profiles, lead to the same qualitative results. We present empirical evidence from pharmaceutical licensing contracts that is consistent with our theoretical predictions.
TSE Working Paper, n. 13-416, July 2013