Review of R&D Management Literature Concerned with
Technology Transfer Between Government Laboratories and Industry
Thomas E. Clarke, M.Sc., M.B.A.
(Updated with the financial assistance of the
Intellectual Property Policy Directorate, Industry Canada)
This summary is based on an extensive review of the R&D management literature dealing with government to industry technology transfer. Common threads or themes associated with successful technology transfer were identified. Some of these are organizational factors, and others are practices or actions taken by the government laboratory to enhance transfer. The full literature review also outlines some of the major barriers to successful technology transfer; these are not covered in this executive summary.
This is an attempt to pull these positive threads together in some coherent fashion. The different factors or practices identified may be more critical at different stages of the technology transfer process, and are not mutually exclusive. Studies indicate that the major reasons companies approach federal laboratories is to gain access to the skills and knowledge of the their scientists, engineers, and to unique expertise or facilities. The studies further indicate that firms are looking for longer term assistance rather than immediate commercial benefits, however, most of these studies are American and the size of firms studied are relatively large. Small firms would most likely be more interested in near-term commercial benefits from their interaction with government laboratories.
Factors Associated with Successful Technology Transfer
The following factors were reported as having been associated with the more successful technology transfer activities: F1 - high level of support for technology transfer activities in both the originating and adopting organization; F2 - middle management support in both organizations;
F3 - strong intrapreneurial attitudes among the federal government personnel; F4 - the government laboratory is multi-missioned;
F5 - existence of technology transfer champions in both organizations;
F6 - technology to be transferred could be adopted/utilized incrementally, did not cause great disruption to the adopting firm;
F7 - technology had the potential for diverse market applications;
F8 - low level of government "red-tape" and bureaucratic rules; and
F9 - existence of a royalty-based incentive system within the government laboratory.
Practices or Actions Associated with Successful Technology Transfer
The following practices have been categorized in terms of general organizational practices, prospecting/marketing practices, and developing/adopting practices. Organizational Practices
OP1 - Organization of the technology transfer activity is contained within a senior level organizational unit; OP2 - Adequate level of resources have been assigned to support the technology transfer activity (people, money and time);
OP3 - Each technology transfer activity is managed as a discrete project with objectives, deadlines, cost-estimates and evaluation of success being clearly described;
OP4 - Inventor-friendly disclosure and patent systems are established; OP5 - Technology transfer within the government department is recognized as a legitimate, valued activity;
OP6 - Networks of bench level scientists/engineers are set up to assist their colleagues in the technology transfer activity and to advise the central technology transfer unit of commercial opportunities as they arise; OP7 - Technology transfer operating practices are consistent across all government departments; OP8 - A suitable reward and incentive system is in place to motivate and encourage the involvement of the technical staff, and other key contributors to the commercialization and transfer process; and
OP9 - Bench level scientists and engineers in the government laboratories have received training so that they understand the concerns and actions of business in developing a new product/process. Prospecting/Marketing Practices MP1 - A strategic plan for technology transfer is prepared which clearly identifies the products/ services to transfer and the potential markets;
MP2 - Only firms with the technical capability to further develop the technology for the market are considered for transfer;
MP3 - Technology transfer champions in both the originating and adopter organizations are identified and supported;
MP4 - Industrial personnel are involved in the shaping of the government laboratory's research agenda (especially important in departments whose mandate is to transfer technology to the private sector);
MP5 - Targeted or highly focussed marketing procedures are used to identify and approach prospective adopters;
MP6 - Marketing studies are conducted to identify technical problems in or technological needs of potential client industries, or individual firms;
MP7 - The key decision makers in the prospective adopting firm are identified; marketing efforts are focussed on them; MP8 - Adequate funding is made available to support government personnel traveling to industrial sites and conferences, and for sabbatical leaves in industry; MP9 - Checklists are used to ensure that all the important questions concerning the technology and the transfer process have been considered;
MP10 - General communications mechanisms are used to make prospective customers of the government laboratories technologies, expertise, etc. aware of their existence and willingness to work with companies, e.g. trade journal articles, newsletters, internet web-sites, etc.
MP11 - Potential adopters are advised clearly of the government's intentions regarding ownership/licensing of intellectual property rights;
MP12 - Adopters are assigned exclusive proprietary rights to the intellectual property in order to encourage additional investment in the technology development; MP13 - Bench level scientists and engineers are trained so that they can identify potentially valuable intellectual property;
MP14 - Industrial experts are invited to the laboratory to identify possible areas of technology/ knowledge transfer;
MP15 - Major stakeholders are involved in the patenting decision, it is not left to lawyers to decide; and
MP16 - Up-front fees or royalties are deferred, especially for small adopting firms.
Developing/Adopting the Technology
AP1 - The technology/knowledge originator is directly involved with the technical staff of the adopting organization;
AP2 - The industrial adopter of the technology is involved very early in the development of the technology, ideally in a collaborative arrangement;
AP3 - Multi-functional teams made up of members of the originating laboratory and the adopting company are established to facilitate the technology transfer;
AP4 - Technical staff are permitted to move on a temporary or permanent basis to the adopting organization; AP5 - On-going technical assistance is provided to the adopting firm after the transfer, as necessary;
AP6 - The originating government laboratory is willing to develop the technology to the prototype stage, or in the case of a process, to demonstrate its merits in a field trial; and AP7 - Private sector firms are allowed access to government facilities and equipment.
A major factor/action reported in most, if not all of the articles reviewed, is the importance and efficiency of person-to-person contact during technology/knowledge transfer. i.e. between the inventor and the technical staff of the adopting firm.
This emphasis on person-to-person interaction has been summed up by many people by the expression:
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