The positive impact of intangible assets on several measures of economic performance is well documented in the literature. Less clear is what initially leads firms to invest in intangible assets. The latter is particularly important because, at least for the Italian manufacturing sector, firms exhibit strong heterogeneity in their investments in intangible assets. In line with the capability-based theory of the firm, we argue that the firm's propensity to invest in intangible assets can be explained by factors that are internal and specific to the firm. Making use of a rich dataset, we test and provide support for our hypotheses. In particular, we find that the propensity to invest in intangible assets increases with the firm's size, human capital, and historical intangible asset base. This points towards the existence of a cumulative process of intangible asset accumulation, which may account for most of the heterogeneity observed in the data. The paper adds to the previous literature in two ways: first, it highlights the existence of strong intra-industry heterogeneity in intangible asset investments, and second, it offers an explanation for such heterogeneity.
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