This article investigates the way in which regions innovate. Its conceptual framework departs from the simple notion that scientific activities equate with knowledge, which assumes that the presence of local knowledge produced by research centres, universities and firms is a necessary and sufficient condition for increasing the innovative capacities in local firms, fed by local spillovers. In particular, the paradigmatic jump in interpreting regional innovation processes lies in a conceptual framework interpreting not a single phase of the innovation process, but the different modes of performing different phases of the innovation process. This article conceptually identifies different territorial patterns of innovation and highlights the context conditions (internal and external to the region) that accompany each innovation pattern. Based on this debate, I express some doubts on the usefulness of EU policy aims for achieving a figure of 3% of the EU’s GDP (public and private) to be invested in R&D/innovation and instead strongly support normative suggestions towards thematically and regionally focused innovation policies.