Difference between R&D and innovation

Last modified:

Thursday 31 October 2019

Research & Development

R&D is a concept that refers to three activities:

  • fundamental research (or pure scientific research): experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to generate new knowledge of the foundations on which phenomena and observable facts are based, without envisaging any specific application or use. Of all the organizations involved in research, universities in particular are focused on basic research.
    Example: Fundamental cancer research. The focus is on understanding the mechanisms that lead to cancer. The acquired knowledge is generally indispensable for the development of new diagnostic treatments.

  • applied research: from the outset, it is focused on the development of applications (products, processes, or services; or improve existing products, processes, or services). Applied research is often multidisciplinary, since the creation of applications requires, more and more, the combination of knowledge from different disciplines.
    Example: The development of an entirely new manufacturing process of synthetic salts.
  • experimental development: systematic work using existing knowledge and skills to design new or improved products, processes, or services that are not intended for commercial use.
    Example: Research on the effect of air quality in a home on the sleep quality of its inhabitants. The aim is to improve the living comfort of the inhabitants


Innovation is a concept that is frequently used, and which often has various meanings. Often, innovation is associated with new ideas, goods, services, and processes. But innovation is more than just a technical improvement. For example, innovation can also take place in management or marketing.

In this regard, the arrival of the internet is a technical innovation, which probably would have been less successful without the development of e-business strategies. In any case, one can only speak of innovation when it creates new forms of added value.

Innovation can be categorized in various ways.

  • It can be incremental (= building on existing innovations) or radical (completely new)

  • It can relate to product innovation, process innovation, and business model innovation

  • It can be a system innovation (= set of complementary innovations) or autonomous innovation (requires no modification of other products or services)

  • It can be open innovation (exchange of innovative ideas with others) or closed innovation (innovation and results remain under the control of the company as much as possible)

Let's stay in touch

Join more than 25,000 subscribers and receive every fortnight in your mailbox our free newsletter (French or Dutch), packed with the latest news, fascinating testimonials, actionable advice and an overview of useful workshops and networking activities for entrepreneurs in Brussels !