September 22, 2011

New opportunities in technology transfer research

At the annual T2S (Technology Transfer Society) conference, a major emphasis has been the use of university science by existing or startup firms. Firms using university technology fits into the category of “innovation explorer” or “innovation benefactor” identified by Chesbrough (2003) and later mentioned by West, Vanhaverbeke and Chesbrough (2006).

Papers on university innovation were numerous among the 29 paper sessions at this week’s T2S conference in Augsburg, Germany. Among the keynote speakers, Mike Wright — recently appointed to Imperial College London — made academic entrepreneurs the subject of his keynote address.

A lot of the research has been conducted on US universities using the annual licensing survey by AUTM, the Association of University Technology Managers. In a session where I presented my own work (on solar energy), there were two new perspectives on this issue.

One was an (in progress) two-year study of European universities and research institutes presented by Franz Barjak of Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz (FHNW) in Switzerland. The study was funded by the European Commission to follow up on its recommended principles for knowledge transfer (European Commission, 2008), and looked at the EU and other adjoining regions.

An early survey noted that the most systematic knowledge transfer policies were in the largest (UK, Germany, France, Spain) and Nordic countries — but that Switzerland and Israel had effective informal policies. In a second phase, a comparison to the AUTM licensing survey showed significant differences between Europe and the US — and also between European universities and other research institutes. More information on the study can be found at

An even more novel study was the one by Mary Beth Hughes of the Science and Technology Policy Institute, examining the 1000+ Federal Research Laboratories back in the US. Among other findings, the study found major variance in how revenue is split with researchers (15-40%), the resources devoted to tech transfer, and the ease of which industry can learn about the labs’ research.

A few labs had best practices — using SBIR grants, allowing employees to take entrepreneurial leave, bringing in an entrepreneur in residence — although the benefits of these practices are not proven. The fact that there is no integrated Federal site to identify lab technologies — or standardized reporting to monitor tech transfer efforts — suggests that (IMHO) Congress hasn’t been all that serious about its nominal transfer goals.

The full study is on the STPI website. Hughes encouraged researchers to study tech transfer in the research labs, both by using their data and by working through the 700 members of the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer.


Chesbrough, Henry. 2003. “The era of open innovation,” MIT Sloan Management Review, 44 (3), pp. 35-41.

European Commission. 2008. “Commission Recommendation on the management of intellectual property in knowledge transfer activities and code of Practice for universities and other public research organisations,” Directorate-General for Research, DOI: 10.2777/13162.

West, Joel, Wim Vanhaverbeke and Henry Chesbrough. 2006. “Open innovation: A research agenda,” In Henry Chesbrough, Wim Vanhaverbeke and Joel West (Eds.), Open Innovation: Researching a New Paradigm, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 285-307.

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