Breaking down technology transfer barriers

Breaking down the technical and legal barriers are essential if technology transfer from academia to industry is to be done efficiently and effectively, according to researchers in Spain. Antonio Hidalgo, Professor of Technology Strategy at the Technical University of Madrid and José Albors, Professor of Business Administration at the Technical University of Valencia explain that publicity and prestige are not enough to allow the smooth transfer of knowledge from universities to the commercial sector.

There have, of course, been many public and prestigious success stories many of which have emerged from the development of so-called science parks that facilitate collaboration between university campuses and tenant companies. Science ‘parks’ in Silicon Valley (California), Research Triangle Park (North Carolina) and Silicon Fen (Cambridge) have been incredibly successful although there have probably been as many failed start-ups as successful ones, if not more. Nevertheless, those science parks have served as a useful model for similar sites across the globe, where they raise the technological sophistication of local companies, promote industrial R&D, boost foreign investment and generally create knowledge-intensive economy in the region rather than the more conventional powerhouses of the labour-intensive industries of traditional industrial sites.

The success of science parks can be attributed to various competitive advantages in which knowledge transfer is facilitated by the large reserves of technical knowledge and skills, the appropriate infrastructure, the attractiveness to venture capitalists, the open communications channels between academics and the business people (who are often one and the same) and not least the excellence of the local educational facilities.

Many researchers have tried to quantify the successes and failures of technology transfer previously, but Hidalgo and Albors are developing a new model that reveals how issues of intellectual property rights and technical constraints are often to blame for failure and when these barriers are overcome success often flows without resistance. Their model is built on a survey of those involved in more than 2000 projects with 880 led by universities and more than 1300 led by business. What emerged is perhaps obvious at one level in that universities and firms have different objectives and an endpoint for technology transfer is only defined clearly when those objectives are themselves defined.

They make various suggestions based on their studies that on the university side of the equation, recommend that improving access and reducing bureaucracy are needed, there also needs to be professional management and organisational support. On the industrial side, companies need to be able to identify the value added by the university in a partnership and at the same time spread the commercial risk.

The researchers point out that despite public and prestigious efforts at the national and international level, public policies have not promoted the necessary cooperative aspects of research projects or the completion of technology transfer and this is, according to many of their survey respondents , the main cause of the failure to surmount the technical and legal barriers. But, there are so many long-term benefits to success in technology transfer, profitable IPRs for both universities and companies. Increased prestige of the university, company growth, and various positive impacts on customers, employment, and the bottom line in terms of financial returns on both sides of the coin.

Research Blogging Icon Antonio Hidalgo, & José Albors (2011). University-industry technology transfer models: an empirical analysis Int. J. Innovation and Learning, 9 (2), 204-223