What Is Research and Development (R&D)?

Research and development is the practice or business unit involved with developing or enhancing new products and services. Often in research and development, companies or governments conceptualize new products. The research portion occurs when a company's R&D team tests the viability of a potential product. This is the act of discovering new sciences that can be used to create new products. The development portion comes after the research and is the act of turning the discovered science into a useful product that the company can market and sell.

Companies invest in research and development when their product lines become outdated, to gain or maintain a competitive edge, or when competitors create similar or superior products. Research and development is vital for the sustained growth and success of a company.

Research and development activities can differ among companies within an industry and across different industries, and they can be assigned in-house or to contracted third-parties. Many companies contain their R&D responsibilities in-house to protect intellectual property.

What Is Product Development?

On the other hand, product development is the entire process of researching, designing, creating, marketing, and selling new products. Research and development is essentially the first step in developing a new product, but product development is not exclusively research and development. It is the entire product life cycle, from conception to sale.

Product development is also not exclusive to designing, implementing, and selling new products. Existing products can go through product development to revamp old features or add new features so the product sells better or adds greater value to consumers. Any time a new product is created and sold—or any time an existing product has added features and is resold—it is going through product development.

Research and Development vs. Product Development

The difference between research and development and product development is that research and development is the conception phase in the product life cycle, while product development is the entire process of designing, creating, and marketing new products or existing products with new features.