The transition from developing country technology firm to true multinational requires both an upgrading of the underlying capability base and an understanding of the purpose of IP management. Through a detailed case study of Sasol, a leading R&D firm from South Africa, this paper tracks the coevolution of IP management with technological advancement amid the constraints of the developing country context. Using interviews, annual reports, patent, and scientific publication data, this study suggests that the value of formal IP extends beyond appropriation of own capabilities. Importantly, patents and publications also serve to signal capabilities in an attempt to gain legitimacy among peers.
Fundamentally, IP management involves a social process, where firms learn to manage the sharing of key capabilities — with the attendant competition/cooperation tension — to peers.