The use of universities and public research organisations as a source of information is increasing as firms adopt search strategies based on current models of information use. The theory of this paper is that in order to predict companies’ perceptions of the usefulness of such knowledge, their practical experience in technological innovation becomes a determinant, not directly but by enabling certain internal changes which result in firms finding public research more useful. Using a sample of 1,031 Spanish manufacturing firms, we give an illustration of how practical experience in technological innovation produces encounters between three of their choices (to increase in size, the skills of the workforce and the abandonment of strategic innovation) and public research. In reality, the lack of such practical experience produces a “disencounter” in which only monopolistic firms can take full advantage of public research. Some managerial and policy implications are discussed below.