Research and development (R&D or R+D), also known in Europe as research and technical (or technological) development (RTD), is a general term for activities in connection with corporate or governmental innovation. Research and development is situated at the front end of the innovation life cycle, which may end with commercialization.
R&D activities differ from institution to institution, with two primary models, of an R&D department either staffed by engineers and tasked with directly developing new products, or staffed with industrial scientists and tasked with applied research in scientific or technological fields, which may facilitate future product development. R&D differs from the vast majority of corporate activities in that it is not intended to yield immediate profit, and generally carries greater risk and an uncertain return on investment.
New product design and development is more often than not a crucial factor in the survival of a company. In an industry that is changing fast, firms must continually revise their design and range of products. This is necessary due to continuous technology change and development as well as other competitors and the changing preference of customers. Without an R&D program, a firm must rely on strategic alliances, acquisitions, and networks to tap into the innovations of others.
A system driven by marketing is one that puts the customer needs first, and produces goods that are known to sell. Market research is carried out, which establishes what is needed. If the development is technology driven R&D is directed toward developing products to meet the unmet need.
In general, research and development activities are conducted by specialized units or centers belonging to a company, or can be out-sourced to a contract research organization, universities, or state agencies. In the context of commerce, "research and development" normally refers to future-oriented, longer-term activities in science or technology, using similar techniques to scientific research but directed toward desired outcomes and with broad forecasts of commercial yield.
Statistics on organizations devoted to "R&D" may express the state of an industry, the degree of competition or the lure of progress. Some common measures include: budgets, numbers of patents or on rates of peer-reviewed publications. Bank ratios are one of the best measures, because they are continuously maintained, public and reflect risk.
In the United States, a typical ratio of research and development for an industrial company is about 3.5% of revenues; this measure is called "R&D intensity". A high technolog company, such as a computer manufacturer, might spend 7% or a pharmaceutical companies such as Merck & Co. 14.1% or Novartis 15.1%. Anything over 15% is remarkable, and usually gains a reputation for being a high technology company such as engineering company Ericsson 24.9%, or Allergan a biotech company, tops the spending table with 43.4% investment Such companies are often seen as credit risks because their spending ratios are so unusual.
Generally such firms prosper only in markets whose customers have extreme high technology needs, like certain prescription drugs or special chemicals, scientific instruments, and safety-critical systems in medicine, aeronautics or military weapons.The extreme needs justify the high risk of failure and consequently high gross margins from 60% to 90% of revenues. That is, gross profits will be as much as 90% of the sales cost, with manufacturing costing only 10% of the product price, because so many individual projects yield no exploitable product. Most industrial companies get 40% revenues only.
On a technical level, high tech organizations explore ways to re-purpose and repackage advanced technologies as a way of amortizing the high overhead. They often reuse advanced manufacturing processes, expensive safety certifications, specialized embedded software, computer-aided design software, electronic designs and mechanical subsystems.
Research from 2000 has shown that firms with a persistent R&D strategy outperform those with an irregular or no R&D investment program.
Research and development are very difficult to manage, since the defining feature of research is that the researchers do not know in advance exactly how to accomplish the desired result. As a result, higher R&D spending does not guarantee "more creativity, higher profit or a greater market share".
Research is the most risky financing area because both the development of an invention and its successful realization carries uncertainty including the profitability of the invention. One way of reducing the uncertainty of researching know-hows is to obtain already researched know-hows.
Benefit by sector
In general, it has been found that there is a positive relationship between the research and development and firm productivity across all sectors, but that this positive relationship is much stronger in high-tech firms than in low-tech firms. In research done by Francesco Crespi and Cristiano Antonelli, high-tech firms were found to have "virtuous" Matthew effects while low-tech firms experienced "vicious" Matthew effects, meaning that high-tech firms were awarded subsidies on merit while low-tech firms most often were given subsidies based on name recognition, even if not put to good use. While the strength of the relationship between R&D spending and productivity in low-tech industries is less than in high-tech industries, studies have been done showing non-trivial carryover effects to other parts of the marketplace by low-tech R&D.
President Barack Obama requested $147.696 billion for research & development in FY2012. Much of this spending was devoted to basic research on the mechanisms of disease. Yet, government-funded research that paid for the work in discovering the human genetic code (DNA) has patent-restrictions.
Research and innovation in Europe are financially supported by the programme Horizon 2020, which is open to participation worldwide.
A notable example is the European environmental research and innovation policy, a multidisciplinary effort to provide safe, economically feasible, environmentally sound and socially acceptable solutions along the entire value chain of human activities.