Technology Transfer

views updated May 17 2018

Technology Transfer


According to Carayannis et al., technology transfer usually involves some source of technology, created and owned by a group which possess specialized technical skills; this group then transfers the technology to a target group of receptors who do not possess those specialized technical skills, and who therefore cannot create the tool themselves. In the United States especially, the technology transfer experience has pointed to multiple transfer strategies, two of which are the most significant: (1) the licensing of intellectual property rights and (2) extending property rights and technical expertise to developing firms.

Technology transfer is a fast-growing activity in the U.S. research and development system, and one which has received substantial attention from governments, industry, and universities. The exact nature of this activity is difficult to pin down, partly because the term has many different connotations. Some of the varieties of technology transfer commonly discussed in business periodicals (such as the Wall Street Journal ) include:

  • International technology transfer: the transfer of technologies developed in one country to firms or other organizations in another country. In the United States, this issue is sometimes associated with the undesired transfer of weapons technology to hostile nations.
  • North-South technology transfer: activities for the transfer of technologies from industrial nations (the North) to less-developed countries (the South), usually for the purpose of accelerating economic and industrial development in the poor nations of the world.
  • Private technology transfer: the sale or other transfer of a technology from one company to another.
  • Public-private technology transfer: the transfer of technology from universities or government laboratories to companies.

While all four types of technology transfer are of concern to businesses, this overview will deal mostly with the first two types. International technology transfer and North-South technology transfer these activities tend to be driven directly by foreign policy and national defense concerns, while the other two types are driven by a balance of corporate and policy interests.

The major categories of technology transfer and commercialization involve the transfer of:

  1. technology codified and embodied in tangible artifacts
  2. processes for implementing technology
  3. knowledge and skills that provide the basis for technology and process development


Most technology transfer takes place because the organization in which a technology is developed is different from the organization that brings the technology to market. The process of introducing a technology into the marketplace is called technology commercialization. In many cases, technology commercialization is carried out

by a single firm. The firm's employees invent the technology, develop it into a commercial product or process, and sell it to customers. In a growing number of cases, however, the organization that creates a technology does not bring it to the market. There are several potential reasons for this:

  • If the inventing organization is a private company, it may not have the resources needed to bring the technology to market, such as a distribution network, sales organization, or simply the money and equipment for manufacturing the product (these resources are called complementary assets). Even if the company has those resources, the technology may not be viewed as a strategic product for that firm, especially if the technology was created as a byproduct of a research project with a different objective.
  • If the inventing organization is a government laboratory, that laboratory is forbidden in general by law or policy (in the United States) from competing with the private sector by selling products or processes. Therefore, the technology can only be brought to market by a private firm.
  • If the inventing organization is a university, the university usually does not have the resources or expertise to produce and market the products from that technology. Also, if the technology was developed with funding from the federal government, U.S. law strongly encourages the university to transfer the technology to a private firm for commercialization.

From a public policy perspective, technology transfer is important because technology can be utilized as a resource for shared prosperity at home and abroad. As a resource, technology (1) consists of a body of knowledge and know-how, (2) acts as a stimulant for healthy competitive international trade, (3) is linked with other nations' commercial needs, and (4) needs an effective plan for management and entrepreneurship from lab to market.

From a business perspective, companies engage in technology transfer for a number of reasons:

  • Companies look to transfer technologies from other organizations because it may be cheaper, faster, and easier to develop products or processes based on a technology someone else has invented rather than to start from scratch. Transferring technology may also be necessary to avoid a patent infringement lawsuit, to make that technology available as an option for future technology development, or to acquire a technology that is necessary for successfully commercializing a technology the company already possesses.
  • Companies look to transfer technologies to other organizations as a potential source of revenue, to create a new industry standard, or to partner with a firm that has the resources or complementary assets needed to commercialize the technology.

For government laboratories and universities, the motivations for technology transfer are somewhat different:

  • Governments or universities may transfer technology from outside organizations if it is needed to accomplish a specific goal or mission (for example, universities may transfer educational technologies), or if that technology would add value to a technology the government or university is hoping to transfer out to a company.
  • Government laboratories and universities commonly transfer technologies to other organizations for economic development reasons (to create jobs and revenues for local firms), as an alternate source of funding, or to establish a relationship with a company that could have benefits in the future.

Technology transfer has also proved to be fertile ground for secondary markets. For example, the company UTEK has created a business out of purchasing and then reselling technologies. This business is important to some companies that may lack the resources to develop technologies or the connections to engage more directly with technology transfer. UTEK is one type of intermediary that works to connect different sectors, such as universities, public institutions, and companies.


The first requirement for an organization to transfer a technology is to establish legal ownership of that technology through intellectual property law. There are four generally recognized forms of intellectual property in industrialized nations:

  • Patents, dealing with functional and design inventions
  • Trademarks, dealing with commercial origin and identity
  • Copyrights, dealing with literary and artistic expressions
  • Trade secrets, which protect the proprietary capabilities of the firm

Under U.S. law, a patent is granted only by the federal government and lets the patentee exclude others from making, using, selling, or offering an invention for a fixed term, currently 20 years from the date the patent

application is filed. A trademark, as defined under the Trademark Act of 1946 (The Lanham Act) is any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof (1) used by a person, or (2) which a person has a bona fide intention to use in commerceto identify and distinguish his or her goods, including a unique product, from those manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods, even if that source is unknown.

A copyright seeks to promote literary and artistic creativity by protecting, for a limited time, what the U.S. Constitution broadly calls writings of authors. The general rule in the United States for a work created on or after January 1, 1978, whether or not it is published, is that copyright lasts for the author's lifetime plus 50 years after the author's death. The copyright in a work made for hire or in an anonymous work lasts for 75 years from publication or 100 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

A trade secret is information that an inventor chooses not to disclose and to which the inventor also controls access, thus providing enduring protection. Trade secrets remain in force only if the holder takes reasonable precautions to prevent them from being revealed to people outside the firm, except through a legal mechanism such as a license. Trade secrets are governed by state rather than federal law.

In the early twenty-first century, a number of scholars from fields such as law voiced concerns that new technologies were outpacing current intellectual property law. Specifically, they argued that copyright law prevented new forms of creative expression that had been enabled by new media technologies. Creative Commons was one organization that was created with the intent of allowing for more flexible types of copyrights. Later, Creative Commons launched Scientific Commons, which sought to address the same concerns in scientific fields. One of the goals behind this project was to ease the transfer of various forms of knowledge.

The second step in technology transfer is finding a suitable recipient for that technologyone that can use the technology and has something of value to offer in return. Firms are now studying more systematically the process of licensing and technology transfer. There are five information activities needed to support technology transfer:

  • Technology scoutingthis includes searching for specific technologies to buy or license.
  • Technology marketingthis includes searching for buyers for a technology, the inverse of tech scouting, and also searching for collaborators, joint venture or development partners, or investors or venture capital to fund a specific technology.
  • Technology assessmentthis refers to evaluating technology, aimed at answering the question what is this technology worth? It includes research of any intellectual properties, and market and competitor assessments.
  • Transfer-related activitiesthis involves gathering information about the transfer process itself, such as licensing terms and practices, contracts, conducting negotiations, and how to do the transfer most successfully.
  • Finding expertsto assist in any of the above areas. A common saying in the field is, technology transfer is a contact sport.

These information needs are often supported by service companies, such as licensing consultants, and by electronic media, including databases and online networks. Some new online networks use the Internet to help firms in these information activities.

The information-transfer process is one of the most critical steps in technology transfer. New licensing practices are designed to address this process. For example, many licenses now bundle both the basic technology and the equipment needed to utilize that technology in a single agreement. A license may also include a know-how agreement, which exchanges relevant trade secrets (with appropriate protections) to the licensee to help in exploiting technology. In some industries, such as petroleum exploration, firms even practice wet licensing, whereby employees of the licenser are loaned out to the licensee to teach how a technology should be properly used.

The major barrier to the increase in technology transfer among firms is organizational behavior. In the past, cultural blocks such as the not invented here syndrome prevented firms from even showing interest in technology transfer. New concepts along the lines of knowledge management are changing behaviors and beliefs, leading firms to realize the enormous gains to be made through the active pursuit of licensing.

Once the organization has at least started to establish ownership of the technology, there are several possible legal and/or contractual mechanisms for transferring technology from one organization to another:

  • Licensingthe exchange of access to a technology and perhaps associated skills from one company for a regular stream of cash flows from another.
  • Cross-licensingan agreement between two firms to allow each other use of or access to specific technologies owned by the firms.
  • Strategic supplier agreementa long-term supply contract, including guarantees of future purchases and greater integration of activity than a casual market relationship. One prominent example is the second-source agreements signed between semiconductor chip manufacturers.
  • Contract R&Dan agreement under which one company or organization, which generally specializes in research, conducts research in a specific area on behalf of a sponsoring firm.
  • Joint or cooperative R&D agreementan agreement under which two or more companies agree to cooperate in a specific area of R&D or a specific project, coordinating research tasks across the partner firms and with sharing of research results.
  • R&D corporation or research joint venturethe establishment of a separate organization, jointly owned by two or more companies, which conducts research on behalf of its owners. A notable example is Bellcore, which originally was established by the seven Regional Bell Holding Companies of the United States and which would conduct research and set standards for the local telephone system.
  • Research consortiumany organization with multiple members formed to conduct joint research in a broad area, often in its own facilities and using personnel on loan from member firms and/or direct hires. The Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC) and Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology (SEMATECH) are examples of such organizations.

The choice of which mechanism to use in a particular technology transaction depends on many factors, including the stage of development for that technology, what the company receiving the technology is willing or able to pay, what technology or other assets it might be able to offer in place of money, the likely benefits of establishing a longer-lasting partnership between the organizations instead of a one-time transfer; and the exact legal status of ownership over that technology. For example, if a small firm simply wants to sell its technology to a large firm in exchange for money, it will probably choose to license the technology. If the small firm also wants access to the large firm's complementary assets, such as its production facilities and distribution network, it will try to negotiate a more substantial and permanent relationship, such as an R&D contract or a cooperative R&D agreement.


Technology transfer between private companies is most commonly accomplished through licensing, although other mechanisms such as joint ventures, research consortia, and research partnerships are also quite popular. Licensing is a big business by itself. In 2002 U.S. companies received over $66 billion in payments on technology licenses from other organizations, of which $58 billion was from domestic sources.

Another growing mode of private technology transfer is the formation of research joint ventures (RJVs) between companies in the United States. For years, such joint ventures were rare, mostly due to fears among companies that joint ventures would provoke antitrust litigation from the government. Passage of the National Cooperative Research Act (NCRA) in 1984 and the National Cooperative Research and Production Act in 1993 relaxed antitrust regulation of such partnerships, leading to a substantial increase in RJVs.

Studies of the filings of RJVs registered with the Department of Justice under the NCRA shows some interesting trends:

  • Although multi-firm consortia such as SEMATECH and the Microelectronics and Computer Corporation (MCC) attract the most interest, the majority of RJVs involve only two firms.
  • Most RJVs focus on developing process technologies rather than product technologies, as processes are viewed as pre-competitive technologies in many industries.
  • The largest concentration of RJVs focus on telecommunications, while software and computer hardware are also leading industries for RJV activity. These industries have significant impact on technological advances in other industries, and therefore attract much interest for partnering firms. Not surprisingly, RJVs are less common in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, probably because process technologies have greater competitive impact in those industries than in others.

Research joint ventures are an advantageous means of acquiring high-risk technologies for several reasons. First, joint ventures enable the risks and costs involved in early research in technology to be shared across multiple firms, reducing the burden on each individual company. Second, the resources and expertise needed to develop certain technologies may be distributed across multiple firms, so RJVs are the only way to combine those resources in one effort. Third, in industries where technology advances quickly, RJVs are an effective way to keep up with new developments. Finally, RJVs are often used to develop and set critical technical standards in certain industries, especially telecommunications. These reasons indicate that RJVs will continue to increase in significance as a tool for technology transfer.

The software world is a realm that allows for a different type of technology transfer. For years, open-source

software has allowed private users to engage in developing, changing, and improving software products. In effect, this has led to a type of technology transfer that can result in a proliferation of newer products. Though this may not seem of use to companies, some firms have embraced open-source software and code, thus making their products more appealing.


In an effort to increase the application of government research results to industry technology problems (and therefore fuel technology-based economic growth), the U.S. government has passed a series of laws since 1980 to encourage the transfer of technologies from government laboratories to industry. Technology licensing was the earliest focus of activity, based on the notion that government laboratories were like treasure chests of available technologies that could easily be applied to corporate needs. In fact, government technology licensing activity is extremely limited, except in the National Institutes of Health. The NIH has been the source of several ground-breaking therapies and other medical technologies and enjoys close relations with the pharmaceutical industry, enabling the agency to gain large amounts of licensing revenue.

Other agencies face substantial difficulties in licensing technologies. Often, their technologies require substantial development before commercialization, reducing their value to firms. Also, most government laboratories do research in areas where there is no clear, consistent path to commercialization as exists in the pharmaceutical industry. The uncertainty of commercialization also diminishes the willingness of firms to purchase technology licenses from laboratories.

Instead, most agencies have focused on signing Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), a mechanism developed under the 1986 Federal Technology Transfer Act. CRADAs are contracts to conduct joint R&D projects, where the government laboratory contributes personnel and equipment, while the partner contributes these assets and funding as well. The number of CRADAs signed by government agencies has increase steadily in recent years.

There are several potential benefits and potential difficulties involved in CRADA research relationships:

  • Transfer of product and process technologies can have a significant impact on recipient firms' business performance. For example, the invention of an improved method for delivering the medication paclitaxel was licensed by the National Institutes of Health to Bristol-Myers-Squibb as the product Taxol, which has since become a leading treatment for breast and ovarian cancer. However, there is no data to show what portion of transfers are successful versus those that are not.
  • Technology transfer may or may not result in commercial products. A survey of 229 technology transfer projects at 29 federal laboratories, conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology, found that 22 percent of the projects resulted in new commercial products, while 38 percent contributed to products under development. Interestingly, in 13 percent of the projects, new product development or product improvement was never a goal.
  • Laboratories' views on technology transfer can affect success. Now that most of the legal barriers to technology transfer have apparently been eliminated by congressional legislation, the true barriers are generated by the culture of the laboratories and the attitudes of researchers and laboratory administrators. For example, in several cases firms have complained that laboratory researchers were not used to meeting the strict timetables on project completion that private sector researchers must observe.
  • Technology transfer, especially in joint research, can aid the government laboratory as well. A report by the GAO examining ten CRADA projects found that the laboratories can also benefit from technology transfer, for example, through enhanced expertise for researchers, development of technologies that also support the laboratory's mission, acquisition of sophisticated equipment and infrastructure, and increased laboratory revenues from industrial sources.


One of the original pieces of U.S. technology-transfer legislation, the Bayh-Dole Act, directed government agencies to encourage universities and other research organizations to license out technologies developed with federal funding. Since 1980, this activity has become a small but growing source of revenue for universities. Technology transfer from academia and other research institutions to industry continues to grow, according to the annual survey of the Association of University Technology Managers. The 2003 survey shows that increasing numbers of research institutions are forging licensing agreements with commercial entities to bring newly developed technology and products to the market. In 2003, the 165 institutions of higher education responding to the survey reported receiving close to $1 billion in licensing revenue in 2003, a 1 percent increase over 2002.

Commercial institutions pay royalties for the right to put inventions and discoveries from universities to commercial use in products such as computer-imaging technology, medical diagnostic testing, and treatment of disease. Institutions of higher education, in turn, can use the revenue to increase investments in research and development. This technology transfer also leads to sponsored research agreements between firms and universities, often to undertake additional research needed to commercialize technologies.

For industry, universities offer the best way to acquire basic technological research as those activities are curtailed within firms. Universities also house experts in very focused fields of study that are likely to have benefits to a small number of firms. Finally, joint industry-university research is viewed as an important recruiting tool in today's competition for scientific talent, since industry-funded projects are often carried out by graduate students who later go to work for their former sponsors.

Often, there are multiple players in this type of technology transfer. Venture capital firms, for example, can play a large role in helping finance the development of these technologies, resulting in startup companies. In 2007, the New York Times reported that some universities had developed offices of technology transfer. The article used Neven Vision, a company that was formed through venture capital investment as well as help from the University of Southern California's technology transfer practices, as an example. The story also noted that universities profit not only through patents, but also through prospective endowments if a company should be successful.

In 2007, Harvard University licensed a slew of nanotechnology patents to a Massachusetts startup, Nano-Terra. As a result, the school also took an equity position in the company, becoming a major shareholder. Interestingly, the company itself was formed by a Harvard professor. This demonstrates the close relationships universities can have with the private sector when it comes to technology transfer.

Additionally, it is important to note that informal social arrangements can also aid technology transfer. The sociologist Manuel Castells has referred to this as a milieu where a region attracts a great number of knowledge workers, allowing for ideas to circulate. Additionally, the historian AnnaLee Saxenian has shown that Silicon Valley's success in the 1980s was due in part to a culture where people changed jobs frequently, a phenomenon that lead to a widespread dissemination of innovative ideas. She also compares this region favorably in relation to company cultures that were not as fast to develop and innovate because of rigid and hierarchical organizational structures and cultures.

Technology transfer is a valuable mechanism by which industry can accelerate its innovation activities and gain competitive advantage through cooperation. Technology transfer can also boost overall economic growth and regional economic development. While further study is needed to estimate the exact benefits gained from technology transfer and ways to achieve those benefits, it is clear that this is an activity that is becoming a central feature of the U.S. research and development system.

SEE ALSO Joint Ventures and Strategic Alliances; Licensing and Licensing Agreements; Technology Management


Carayannis, Elias, Everett Rogers, K. Kurihara, and M. Albritton. High-Technology Spin-offs from Government R&D Laboratories and Research Universities. International Journal of Technovation 18, no. 1 (1998): 111.

. Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAS) as Technology Transfer Mechanisms. R&D Management, Spring 1998.

Carayannis, Elias, and Jeffrey Alexander. Secrets of Success and Failure in Commercializing U.S. Government R&D Laboratories Technologies: A Structured Case Studies Approach. International Journal of Technology Management 17, no. 3/4 (1998).

Castells, Manuel. The Informational City. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Flanigan, James. The Route from Research to Start-Up. The New York Times, 18 January 2007.

Geisler, E. Technology Transfer: Toward Mapping the Field, a Review, and Research Directions. Journal of Technology Transfer, Summer-Fall 1993, 8893.

Goldscheider, Robert, ed. Licensing Best Practices: The LESI Guide to Strategic Issues and Contemporary Realities. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

Ham, Rose Marie, and David C. Mowery. Improving Industry-Government Cooperative R&D. Issues in Science & Technology, Summer 1995, 6773.

Kelley, Kevin. New Rules for the New Economy. New York: Penguin, 1998.

Megantz, Robert C. Technology Management: Developing and Implementing Effective Licensing Programs. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

Mello, John P. Jr. A Little Less R, a Little More D., 12 March 2007. Available at

Muir, Albert E. The Technology Transfer System. Latham, NY: Latham Book Publishing, 1997.

Parr, Russell L., and Patrick H. Sullivan. Technology Licensing: Corporate Strategies for Maximizing Value. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.

Saxenian, AnnaLee. Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Science Commons. Available at

Shankland, Stephen. AMD Nurtures Open-Source Graphics. CNET, 6 September 2007. Available from:

Shenkar, Oded. The Chinese Century: The Rising Chinese Economy and Its Impact on the Global Economy, the Balance of Power, and Your Job. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2005.

Speser, Phyllis L. The Art and Science of Technology Transfer. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, 2006.

Utek. 2008. Available from:

Weisman, Robert. Harvard Set to License 50-plus Nanotech Patents. The Boston Globe, 4 June 2007, F1.

Technology Transfer

views updated May 11 2018


Technology transfer is a complex and multi-faced process. Initially, transfer occurs from research laboratories such as universities to the market. Prior to 1980 when The Patent and Trademark Laws Amendment Act, more commonly know as the Bayh-Dole Act was passed, there was limited flow of government-funded inventions to the private sector. In 1980, the federal government held title to approximately 28,000 patents. Fewer than 5 percent of these were licensed to industry for development of commercial products (U.S. Government Accounting office, 1998). The Bayh-Dole Act permitted universities to retain title to inventions developed under government funding and encouraged universities to collaborate with companies to promote the utilization of invention arising from federal funding. Since the passage of this Act, partnerships between universities and industry have moved new discoveries from the laboratory to the market place for the benefit of society.

There is substantial evidence to suggest that the Bayh-Dole Act has promoted a considerable increase in the technology transfer from universities to industry, and ultimately to the people around the world. However, it is obvious that economic interests were the driving forces for the change in governmental policy. Licensing by universities, National Institutes of Health or other governmental agencies in life sciences has yielded substantial profits to pharmaceutical companies, sometimes at the cost of human suffering. If the public good is not served by, or is undermined by technology transfer, then it is ethically justified to change public policy.

Historically, and to a large extent even in the early twenty-first century, the transfer of technology occurs between and among developed nations. However, new forms of multi-national enterprise imply a dispersion of production tasks across globe. In the case of developing countries, the technology must meet the local needs and be socially accepted. If the technology is not appropriate it may cause negative economic, social, and environmental impacts. The chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, is a case in point. Methylisocyanate (MIC) leaking from a Union Carbide corporation pesticide plant immediately killed more than 2,000 people and injured or disabled more than 200,000 others. The death toll has reached 20,000 since December 3, 1984, when the accident occurred. Information about hazardous technologies was lacking, workers were poorly trained, and major safety equipment was inoperative because of poor maintenance. In this case the technology should have been modified to make it adaptable to the new environment.

Mechanisms of Technology Transfer

The most important legitimate channels for technology transfer are licensing, foreign direct investment, and joint ventures. Most technology transfer takes place in the form of licensing under specific terms and conditions agreed to by both suppliers and recipients. The suppliers gain monetary rewards, whereas the recipients expand their economic opportunities.

Foreign direct investment refers to a process by which multinational corporations (MNCs) transfer production operations to the developing countries through wholly owned subsidiaries. In this context, the transfer of technology takes place internally between parent MNCs and their branches and subsidiaries in different countries. This enables MNCs to retain technology within the corporations.

Joint ventures have emerged as an alternative to foreign direct investment because most developing countries have issued investment laws that regulate foreign investment. These laws promote joint ventures between local and foreign partners. Consequently, with greater emphasis on national participation and control by the developing countries, technology transfer has assumed a new meaning, although control over proprietary technology and know-how has remained with MNCs.

Technology Transfer and Ethical Issues

Given these basic mechanisms of technology transfer, one may nevertheless ask: Why technology transfer? Can technology transfer improve the economic conditions of people living in the developing countries? Can technology transfer create global equity?

Proponents of globalization have suggested that technology and its diffusion can improve living standards, increase productivity, generate employment opportunities, improve public services, and create competitive markets for products. Have these goals been achieved? There are two contending theories: the dependency theory and the bargaining theory.

DEPENDENCY THEORY. Proponents of this theory (Cardoso and Faletto 1979) claim that, because of the insistence of multinational corporations on foreign direct investment (which transfers technology from the parent companies to the foreign subsidiaries), developing countries are denied access to modern technologies. These theorists contend that technology is key to development and, if denied, developing countries will remain dependent on developed countries. This will create negative economic outcomes, such as increased inequality and wage stagnation. Consequently, the balance of trade between developed and developing societies will remain unequal and therefore exploitive. Sunil K. Sahu (1998) suggests that such technological dependence creates an enclave economy for the developing countries, and that it will be difficult for their economies to expand or even survive.

BARGAINING THEORY. This theory takes a view opposite that of dependency theory. Bargaining theory recognizes the potential benefit that MNCs can bring to their host countries. In other words, the technologies of the advanced countries do not have adverse effects on the economy of the developing societies. Raymond Vernon (1971), an advocate of this theory, has developed a concept known as "obsolescing bargaining" that explains the relationship between MNCs and host countries. The bargaining power of the developing countries tends to increase after a certain period, specifically when technology becomes stabilized and competition for the same technology by other developed countries intensifies. The competition among developed countries increases the choices available to the developing countries. Additionally, once the foreign investment is "sunken," the host country is in a much stronger position to negotiate a better deal, and at this point MNCs cannot credibly threaten to withdraw (Stepan 1978). Vernon also suggests that the monopoly of the innovator is not permanent because most products tend to pass through a transition from "monopoly to oligopoly to workable competition" (Vernon 1971, p. 91). This is also known as the product life-cycle theory.

Can Technology Transfer Create Global Equity?

Technology transfer has accelerated the process of globalization, and it is suggested that it may lift all people and raise their living standards. The Industrial Revolution brought new wealth first in Europe and then in the United States. Since the Industrial Revolution, the difference between the rich and the poor in the world has increased. It is estimated that the difference between the per capita incomes of the richest and poorest countries was 3 to 1 in 1820, 11 to 1 in 1913, 35 to 1 in 1950, 44 to 1 in 1973, and 72 to 1 in 1992 (UNDP 1999). The gap is further reflected in how the world's wealth is distributed. The wealthiest 20 percent of the world's people—all from developed countries—control 85 percent of global income. The remaining 80 percent of people share 15 percent of the world's income. Such disparity has led to greater poverty in the developing countries. Statistics show that the number of people who are living on less than $1 per day (a frequently used poverty line) was rising in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The number of these people grew from 1.2 billion in 1987 to 1.5 billion in 2000, and there could be nearly 2 billion poor people by 2015. In addition, approximately 45 percent of the world population live on $2 per day (World Bank 2000). Some countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China have benefited from global economies, but others have not. The growth of proprietary technology, covered by patents and industrial property rights, has served as a major barrier to new entrants, and it will continue to do so unless proprietary rights are modified.


SEE ALSO Development Ethics;Technological Innovation.


Cardoso, Fernando Henrique, and Enzo Faletto. (1979). Dependency and Development in Latin America, trans. Marjory Mattingly Urquidi. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Rosenberg, Nathan, and Claudio Frischtak, eds. (1985). International Technology Transfer: Concepts, Measures, and Comparison. New York: Praeger.

Sahu, Sunil K. (1998). Technology Transfer, Dependence, and Self-Reliant Development in the Third World: The Pharmaceutical and Machine Tool Industries in India. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Stepan, Alfred. (1978). The State and Society: Peru in Comparative Perspective. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (1999). Human Development Report, 1999. New York: Oxford University Press.

United States Government Accounting Office. (1998). "Technology Transfer." Report to Congressional Committees. Administration of the Bayh-Dole Act by Research Universities.

Vernon, Raymond. (1971). Sovereignty at Bay: The Multinational Spread of U.S. Enterprises. New York: Basic.

Vernon, Raymond. (1977). Storm over the Multinationals: The Real Issue. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

World Bank. (2000). World Development Report, 1999–2000. New York: Oxford University Press.

Technology Transfer

views updated May 29 2018


Technology is information or knowledge that is put to use in order to accomplish a particular task. Technology transfer is the application of information into use.

American research universities have become increasingly involved in various technology-transfer activities by establishing technology/business incubators, technology parks, venture capital funds for start-up companies, university research foundations, and technology licensing offices. This trend toward what Sheila Slaughter and Larry Leslie (1997) call academic capitalism is also illustrated by an increase in the number of university-based research centersand by the tendency for some universities to retain partial ownership in the start-up companies that spin out of university research.

Through this variety of boundary-spanning activities, research universities seek to facilitate the transfer of technological innovations to private companies in order to: (1) create jobs and contribute to local economic development, and (2) earn additional funding for university research. Technology transfer from research universities has been increasingly recognized as an engine for economic growth in the United States. This relatively new role for research universities has been greeted with considerable discussion and debate. One question that has been raised concerns what role American research universities can, and should, play in transferring research results to private companies in the form of licensed technologies.

A research university is an institution whose main purposes are to conduct research and to train graduate students in how to conduct research. The first research universities developed in Germany; the University of Göttingen (founded in 1737) and the University of Berlin (established in 1810) were among the earliest examples. The idea of the research university spread to the United States, first to Johns Hopkins University (in 1876) and Clark University (in 1890), and then to Stanford University (1891) and the University of Chicago (1892). In the early twenty-first century, several hundred U.S. universities consider themselves research universities.

While some U.S. research universities established an office of technology licensing as early as 1925 (the University of Wisconsin at Madison), 1935 (Iowa State University), and 1940 (Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT]), most research universities did not adopt this idea until after 1970. Wisconsin, and later Stanford, served as the models for many other research universities as they became increasingly involved in technology transfer. The Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act of 1980, commonly known as the Bayh-Dole Act and amended by Public Law 98-620 in 1984, facilitated patenting and licensing on a broad scale by research universities. This legislation shifted the responsibility for the transfer of technologies stemming from federally funded research from the federal government to the research universities that conducted the research.

Since the early 1980s the rise of biotechnology research and development and, more generally, of research in the life sciences has also boosted the number of research universities with offices of technology licensingand increased the incomes earned by these offices. Today, some 70 percent of all technology royalties earned by universities come from the life sciences, with the remainder mainly derived from the physical sciences, including engineering. David Mowery et al. (1999) found that most invention disclosures, patents, and licensing at Columbia University were concentrated in a very small number of departments, including electrical engineering, computer science, and the medical school.

The spread of university offices of technology licensing followed the S-shaped curve that is characteristic of the cumulative rate of adoption of an innovation, with larger, more research-oriented universities tending to adopt first, followed over ensuing years by universities with a smaller amount of external research funding that devote fewer resources to research and development and technology transfer.

Detractors of university patenting and licensing point to such potential problems as conflicts of interest that may be created for faculty members, delays in publication of research results to accommodate patent filing or to benefit university-licensed companies, and the possible shift from basic research to more applied research, which has a higher potential for yielding patents and licenses. However, Mowery et al. found that there has been very little shift to more applied research due to the Bayh-Dole Act at Columbia University, Stanford University, or in the University of California System.

U.S. universities that are relatively more involved in technology transfer (indicated by invention disclosures, patents filed, start-up companies, and licensing royalties) are characterized by: (1) higher average faculty salaries; (2) a larger number of support staff for technology licensing; (3) a higher value of private gifts, grants, and contracts; and (4) larger research and development expenditures from industry and from federal sources.

See also: Faculty as Entrepreneurs; Faculty Consulting; University-Industrial Research Collaboration.


DeVol, Ross C. 1999. America's High-Tech Economy: Growth, Development, and Risk for Metropolitan Areas. Santa Monica, CA: Miliken Institute.

Massing, Donald E. 1998. AUTM Licensing Survey: FY 1997. Norwalk, CT: Association of University Technology Managers.

Mowery, David C.; Nelson, Richard R.; Sampat, Bhaven N.; and Ziedonis, Arvids A. 1999. "The Effects of the Bayh-Dole Act on U.S. University Research and Technology Transfer." In Industrializing Knowledge: University-Industry Linkages in Japan and the United States, ed. Lewis M. Branscomb, Fumio Kodama, and Richard Florida. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rogers, Everett M. 1995. Diffusion of Innovations, 4th edition. New York: Free Press.

Rogers, Everett M.; Hall, Brad J.; Hashimoto, Michio; Steffensen, Morton; Speakman, Kristen L.; and Timko, Molly K. 1999. "Technology Transfer from University-Based Research Centers: University of New Mexico Experience." Journal of Higher Education 70 (6):687705.

Rogers, Everett M.; Yin, Jing; and Hoffmann, Joern. 2000. "Assessing the Effectiveness of Technology Transfer Offices at U.S. Research Universities." Journal of the Association of University Technology Managers 12:4380.

Slaughter, Sheila, and Leslie, Larry L. 1997. Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies, and the Entrepreneurial University. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Everett M. Rogers

Technology Transfer

views updated May 29 2018


One of the main ways in which the Internet and e-commerce provide value is through the transfer of information between different entities, be they consumers, businesses, non-profit organizations, government agencies, or entire industries. Networks like the Internet allow information to flow freely across the well-defined structures to which these entities normally conform. They foster collaboration, giving birth to new discoveries and ideas. When intellectual property or technology from one organization or industry is discovered by a party in a different field and used or applied in a novel or unintended way, the phenomenon is called technology transfer. Although technology and e-commerce often play important roles in the technology transfer process, the central foci normally are ideas and intellectual property, such as access to patented information. However, it also may involve cooperative research, exchanging professionals with different skills, sharing facilities, and providing access to services.

The success of technology transfer can be measured in different ways. On the very simple end, this may involve the improvement or enhancement of something that already exists, such as a product or manufacturing process. Reduced costs and improved organizational efficiency are other measurable benefits. However, initiatives resulting in new markets, products, or services frequently are the most lucrative and receive the most attention. These initiatives can be measured in terms of market share percentages or in monetary terms.

The human factor also plays a role in determining how successful technology transfer initiatives are. As Industrial Management explained, "Integrating the diverse organizational experiences and skills and focusing on serving customers with new, cutting-edge products appears a lot easier when technology transfer-related decision-making power is equitably shared, strong feelings of reciprocal interdependence exist, the level of decentralization is high, and team leaders understand the human interaction issues of the process. Failure to understand these central features of technology transfer results in sluggish development of new products."

Because technology transfer is a general phenomenon, it can happen in virtually any industry or field. Individual inventors and businesspeople, smaller and medium-sized businesses, and large corporations all engage in and benefit from technology transfer. Universities, where a great deal of basic-science and high-tech research takes place, are another important source of technology transfer. Some universities have departments devoted exclusively to this goal, staffed with individuals who facilitate the transfer of research ideas to real-world applications that benefit society. These technology transfer departments perform many roles, including that of record keeper, marketer, and negotiator. Universities receive royalties or flat fees for the patented technologies they market, although in many cases these amounts are small because new technologies are new and unproven, resulting in a risk for marketplace organizations.

The Internet and e-commerce played important roles in the facilitation of e-commerce. In the early 2000s, many different organizations established an online presence to promote transfer. One such organization was the Pantex Plant. Located in Texas, Pantex assembled and disassembled the United States' nuclear weapons, and was also involved in interim plutonium pit storage, high explosive research and development, and evaluating weapons. At its Web site, the organization indicated that it sought to share the knowledge gained from more than 40 years of such experience with American industry.

Like Pantex, many large corporations have information they wish to share with other parties. Scores of companies have patented ideas that are of no immediate use to them, and therefore go unused. Converting these into sources of revenue represented an area of great opportunity. In the early 2000s, several online marketplaces devoted to the exchange of intellectual property and ideas offered a solution. These sites functioned as third-party brokers or intermediaries. They charged people fees to belong to their service and search for intellectual property that was for sale, and in some cases received a percentage of or royalties from deals that resulted from the service. The IP Network, Patent & License Exchange, TechEx, and were among these exchanges. In theory, these intermediaries made it more convenient for buyers and sellers to find and access information about one another.

Founded by a member of the DuPont family and a former Polaroid executive, had a large number of sponsors including Procter & Gamble Co., Ford Motor Co., the Boeing Co., and Motorola Inc. The site involved all research and industry sectors and was valuable to scientists, researchers, and technology officers. In 2001, connected DuPont with technology researcher Batelle, resulting in an arrangement in which DuPont licensed its patented chemical synthesis technology to Batelle.

In the early 2000s a formal society was devoted to technology transfer. The Technology Transfer Society (T2S) was a "not-for-profit professional organization dedicated to sharing methods, opportunities, and schools of thought with the technology transfer community. The T2S achieves its mission through programs, publications, forums, our annual conference, and other services designed to provide resources of information and contacts." In 2001, T2S had local chapters in several locations, including Washington D.C., Massachusetts, Alabama, California, Arkansas, Colorado, and West Virginia.


Jassawalla, Avan R. and Hemant C. Sashittal. "Practical Issues of Technology Transfer in High-tech Industrial Organizations." Industrial Management, November/December 1996.

"Making a Profit from Ideas." The Financial Times. July 3, 2001. Available from

"University Technology TransferQuestions and Answers." The Regents of the University of California. 2001. Available from

"Who We Are." Technology Transfer Society. August 23, 2001. Available from

SEE ALSO: Intellectual Property

About this article

Technology Transfer

All Sources -
Updated Aug 18 2018 About content Print Topic