Technology Transfer Colloquium

Poster technology transfer

Technology transfer has become a key theme in the development of the so-called knowledge based economy to which a number of postindustrialist countries aspire. The principles underlying this process are few and simple:

(i) knowledge-based economies rely on a constant supply of new technologies,

(ii) new technologies are developed to an extent by industry as part of their Research & Development (R&D) cycle but the largest contribution to the development of new technologies comes from University-based research or research carried out at publicly funded research establishments, such as the Max Planck Institutes in Germany, the Institutes of the Medical or Science and Engineering Research Councils in the United Kingdom, etc,

(iii) thus knowledge-based societies need to ensure a smooth flow of technology from University to Industry in order to sustain the competitiveness of their economies.

Despite the apparent simplicity and linearity of the model outlined above, it has proved difficult, in large areas of the first world, to set in place mechanisms that resulted in effective transfer of new technologies from Universities to Industry and society in general. In the US University technology transfer was shaped by legislation in the early 1980s.

The 1981 US Bayh-Dole Act regulated the exploitation of research funded by federal government but had wide implication in the whole area of technology-based economic development. The Act stated that Universities and small businesses own inventions made with federal funding, that Universities were required to share royalties with their inventors, that small businesses and Universities proposing manufacturing in the U.S. were given preference to licensing and that the federal government reserved the right to use the invention royaltyfree for its own purposes.

The net result of the Bayh-Dole Act was that a number of Universities embraced an entrepreneur culture, promoted the birth of new companies exploiting their own technology and reassessed their priorities and strategies in the light of this new entrepreneurial spirit. While not every academic in the US agreed with this cultural change within academia that redefined in a major way the social mission of Higher Education, the overall outcome of this process has, unquestionably, been a push forward for the technology based sector of the US economy.

A key factor ensuring the ability of Universities in the US to take direct responsibility for the exploitation of their technology was the ready availability of financial capital, often in the form of venture capital. While American Universities underwent this radical transformation, Universities in Europe faced a different cultural and regulatory framework. Nearly 30 years after the Bayh-Dole Act there is no European legislation that would or could result in a similar change. The development of technology transfer in Europe, therefore, has followed national paths often relying on specific and local realities. For example in the United Kingdom University technology transfer was outlined as a priority for economic development by the Labour government of H Wilson in the 1960s and this prompted the University of Cambridge (or to be precise Trinity College, the largest of the College) to promote technology transfer in Cambridge through the creation of a Science Park at the end of the 1960s and, as it happened, these developments in Cambridge had a major indirect impact on University technology transfer across the United Kingdom.

There were certain similarities between the process of University technology transfer in the United States of America and in the United Kingdom, namely a relatively direct access to private financial capital. The situation was different, however (and still is) in many other European countries where access to venture capital funds is more limited. As a result a number of governments across Europe, including Germany, France and Sweden for example, devised major schemes backed by national or regional governments in order to back early stages University technology transfer. This policy yielded significant results in all countries and Germany is, currently, the country with the largest technology-based economy in Europe and the highest pipeline of technologies from University to market.

The lessons from the Colloquium for a country such as Italy and a University such as Pavia where the process of technology transfer is set in motion long after it was set in place in other parts of the world are two fold: there is no universal, successful procedure to underpin University technology transfer as success depends not only on the quality of the relevant University-based research but on a number of other factors as well and, secondly, it is apparent from analysis and comparison of other technology transfer models that successful procedures for technology transfer in Italy and specifically in Pavia will depend crucially on a facilitating role of national or local government in line with the model successfully implemented in Germany, France and Sweden.

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