Technology Transfer Systems

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Nikolaos Karanassios

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† c/o TEI of Serres

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† terma Magnisias

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 621 22 Serres - Greece

 


ABSTRACT

 

There are several definitions of the term "technology", all of which are concerned with creation of tools, instruments, techniques or methods of improving welfare.

Technology has been used and continues to be used by entrepreneurs (to maximise profits), by researchers(to expand their research) and by inventors (often, to invent something new).

Locations where technology is invented (or improved) range from Universities, government-funded Research Centres and private or corporate laboratories to an inventor's workbench.

Most often, technology development is tightly coupled to financial rewards.

Questions of creation, diffusion and application of technological achievements typically arise but, the bottomline is that the marketplace rewards whatever a given community (in its historical context), considers of economic value.

Following the hypothesis that the marketplace is the key driving force behind technology development and that such development adheres to market rules (especially to the demand side of the supply-and-demand approaches), it can be concluded that: the technology that generates the highest demand is the one promising improved welfare and that, technology may be considered as an essential "commodity" or even as a "service".In addition, technological advancements aiming to improve welfare are driven by profit-seeking corporate interests or by "vote seeking" state-owned non-profit organisations.

A technology transfer system is important for knowledge-based industries and may be defined as a synergistic and co-operative activity between an inventor and a set of agreements, rules and regulations that facilitate technology transfer.A formal system for technology transfer has to take into consideration market demand, the modus operandi of an inventor, the need to provide high coverage of intellectual property and, at the same time, to provide increased speed of technology-transfer and to have a high potential for successful commercialisation.

In this presentation, a proposal for a system of technology transfer for a regional, national, pan-European and international markets will be discussed using empirical observations and heuristics.

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

The latter part of the twentieth century has been called "information age" and, an infoglut is bombarding even the average citizen.Even though information technology was supposed to diminish the cost of information and, while it is true that the cost of information storage and retrieve has diminished, rapid conversion of vast amounts of data to information gives corporations (and countries) a competitive advantage.†† This has been recognized by many, as data mining and rapid data-to-information conversion approaches are active areas of current research.

Information technologies, such as the internet, offer the ability to deliver goods and services even to the geographically-remote markets.

Electronic commerce is a classic example of this and inevitably, this is expected to lead to global competition.This trend to globalization is currently underway as exemplified by a shift in market-forces from being marketing-driven to high-volume-and-lower-cost achieved through mergers and take-overs, up to financial conglomerations, relying on just their colossal money power.

Technology is particularly important for Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMSEs) which must rely on innovation in order to compete effectively on a world market.Since technology and innovation are central

to the very survival of SMSEs, they will be discussed in some detail in what follows.

I.††††††† The meaning of technology

There are several definitions of technology. Some stress the attention on the character, some on the usefulness, others on the nature.

My own proposal for a definition of technology is:

Any human articraft or method intended to substitute or multiply human effort in activities that satisfy needs, desires or mere curiosity.

Technology does not necessarily rely on invention or discovery, although inventions are the most common starting point.

Technology relies on science and science starts from philosophy. Research does not necessarily lead to technology, because the result may be a "theory", a "method" or an "application" of knowledge.

A distinction among the term "technology" and other similar terms is useful, not for just understanding the nature, but also in order to stretch the systems dealing with technology, without overlapping with other maters.

Invention is an application of established knowledge combining the features of materials or methods in a way that creates new possible use of them.

Discovery is a statement deriving from the systematic observation of the behaviour of objects or persons, expressed for the first time. In other words discovery is the verification of a theory.

It is possible to have articrafts resulting from either inventions or discoveries, but technology is again the vehicle that carries them from the state of the ideas to the state of the usefulness.

II.†††††† The use of technology

Although everyone uses technology, the limit here is the use by productive organisations, such as enterprises, government and local authorities, syndicates, co-operatives etc, not individuals as citizens or consumers.

The participation of technology in the production of wealth is then evident, nevertheless it does not represent the only way. Cost maters affect the decision of the introduction of technology in such a way that it may prove the abolishment of technologically "advanced" systems more profitable, whatever the consideration of "profit" may be.

There are also other reasons to avoid technology, such as the image of "hand made" or "traditional" products, leading to better prices in the marketplace or follow a decision that increases employment in a region.

Technology, with or without an initial know-how, is used to increase production or sales and / or decrease costs and / or secure quality of the products, leading to profitability.

Technology is also used to realise business ideas, making the creation of new products or services (with or without their own intrinsic technology) possible.

Articrafts, methods and know-how, create wealth by diminishing the consumption of production factors (such as labour and land), substituting them partly by capital and increase the output of commodities and or services.

By doing so, the producer's competitively increases and at least local development is achieved.

A collateral effect of technology is the perpetuation of the introduction of technology, because technology creates hunger for technology since in the global competition the need for "competitive advantages" is always evident and leads to the necessity to introduce more and more technologically advanced "items". From a different point of view, technologically advanced systems need adequate training systems that require their own technology, maintenance with an adequate tool set, suppliers with sophisticated systems, quality control, security and so on.

III.            Locations of technology creation

Technology is being created in several places. There is no specific technology creation place or procedure. It may be feasible to identify the stimuli of technology creation or procedures that facilitate the emergence of already "thought of" technological items, but there is not yet a general rule.

The usual places, where technology is created and presented, are discussed in the following.

A.      Universities

Although Universities are not meant to create technology, traditionally limited to "basic research", there is more and more evidence of their involvement in industrial applications throughout four main lines of action:

        Applied research in co-operation with industrial firms.

        Research leading to possible applications.

        Applied research ordered by the society.

        Consulting work, requiring a minimal of research.

In all cases the technology created (even under the aspect of know-how) and then transferred to the world of applications, is more individual and less institutional. It is the persons that trigger the co-operation between the institutions, the Universities on one side and the productive entities on the other, not the institutions.

There are plenty of explanations for this behaviour, which at the first glance looks like a paradox. One of the most popular is that both enterprises and Universities tend to trust the commitment of individuals, assuming, either by logical conclusions or experience, that research needs personal devotion and inspiration.

The academic world in Europe is organised in democratic entities, in order to prevent the limitations in thoughts expression and the obstacles posed to the diffusion of ideas. This protection of the freedom of speech is creating a side-effect, the one of the necessity of having collective approval of research goals, procedure and even the purposes. The consensus needs homogeneity and this is a force acting against initiative.

New technology is a result of a breakthrough with itís roots in a personal ambition, while basic research is in line with a theoretical approach and in the long term is producing scalar improvement of scientific knowledge.

While basic research is motivated by academic incentives, such as papers, academic career and fame, requiring discipline, technological research by academic staff has no other incentives but just payment, which is considered very vulgar, if not fraud.

In spite of the lack of motivation and the unfavourable environment of the academic institutions, technology is created by individual initiative exploiting the facilities, the scientific knowledge base, investment risk-free activities and credibility of both the academic staff as elected to be such and the institutions themselves.

A.      Research Centres

Specific scientific fields have been the base for the creation of Research Centres, in order to create the technology needed by a specific sector of the economy.

Those research centres have been created by several different social groups, as well as the government, in order to investigate the possibilities of developing technologies and know-how, with a clear target that can be referred as ďimprovement of productivityĒ.

They are characterised by their tendency to become more academic than technology oriented, just because the incentives of the academic motivation of the researchers is the criterion of their career within the research centres themselves. The criterion is not wrong and whenever the relations between those centres and use of the results by the organisations that created them becomes loose, remains the only one.

The assumption that Universities and Research Centres are in competition does not verify. The target market for the products of the research centres are rather the Universities than the industries, which benefit the researchers.

The creation of technology is meeting the expectations of both the governmental policy, often referred as strategy and the personal promotion of the researchers.

B.     Industries

With or without the appropriate department and the corresponding budget for research and development, technology is created within the industrial establishments.

In small and medium size enterprises, technology creation is usually promoted by the entrepreneur and has the form of new machinery development. This equipment is usually developed in order to cover specific productive needs, because it is not offered in the market, it is not known that there is a market availability or it is considered to cost less than what is offered.

The equipment produced this way is hardly documented and it is produced through a try and error procedure. In most cases it is not even designed, being based only on the idea of the workers that can make it. Through the same procedure come also the production methods.

Bigger enterprises, especially those with an experience of quality assessment like ISO, follow some rules in their research of both production methods and equipment. In most big companies there is a special Research and Development department that carries out the work of creating new products, new production methods or new equipment, with a distinct budget.

In all cases, it is the management unit of the enterprise (in SMEs the owner himself) to guide the research, having already in mind a rough idea of the research outcome, convincing enough to permit him to pay for itís creation.

Again in all cases, the management unit is considering the achievements of the research done, in respect of the products, methods or equipment developed, a competitive advantage, a valuable, though intangible, asset of their enterprise and a secret to be kept from their competitors.

C.     Inventors

Many individuals are trying to create new products, even if they are not involved in any kind of enterprise. They usually identify a market need and they try to develop a product satisfying it.

They rarely try to develop productive procedures or productive equipment since they rarely have any previous experience of an enterprise, either as owners or mere workers.

Their invention is usually in paper and they tend to patent it. If a prototype is required, they ask someone else, a person with a laboratory that they trust, to make it for them.

They find it very difficult to distinguish between a market idea and technology creation.

Some of them, especially engineers, really create new technology with an adequate documentation and some dose of innovation. In these cases there is not any system or procedure to promote their technology, after an evaluation of itís functionality and an assessment of the possibility to apply it.

Technology creation Procedures

Technology creation is a procedure that involves several parts of the economic system. The most important seem to be:

        The motivation of the researchers.

        The research facilities.

        The criteria of assignment of the research work.

        The assessment system.

        The market structure.

        The documentation.

The patent system and the intellectual property protection means.

Technology creation is very close to innovation. There are plenty of innovative minds with hardly any ability to create or even understand technology. In a corporate technology creation they trigger the research and engineering of collective work, either as idea generators, research animators or just the stars in brainstorming sessions.

Although technology creation is a collective work, there is always the need of a leader who will get either the benefits or the glory of a successful outcome.

IV.††††† Physical systems of technology transfer

Technology transfer has to be seen as an implementation of the technology created in a productive entity. This requires:

        That the user knows about the technology created.

        That the user knows how to obtain the rights to use it.

        That the user is sure the technology works.

        That the user has evaluated the participation of this technology in the effectiveness of his entity.

The usual marketplace for technology, especially when it is incorporated in equipment, is the organised expositions and the direct connection of technology creation entities with the production entities.

This marketplace gives the opportunity to the user to buy the equipment or to make an agreement to use a production method. It is obvious that the same possibilities have his competitors. Exclusive use in a limited territory does not really offer any protection in the global competition.

Direct connection of the technology creating entities with the user raise a lot of limitations, such as:

        How does the question on cost benefit calculations is answered?

        Who and how answers the question of feasibility?

        How can replication be prevented?

        How is the price calculated?

These questions make obvious that it is necessary to entrust an intermediary capable of covering the three aspects of such deals:

        The economic evaluation.

        The technical feasibility.

        The legal protection.

The intermediary, as such, has to be trustworthy, because all of the three aspects may create the temptation to lead the benefits to the intermediary instead of the user and the technology creator.

Such intermediaries usually are:

Consulting companies.

        Nonprofit or non governmental entities, participating in International Organisations, that guarantee their ethical function.

        Governmental bodies.

        Liaison Offices (between Education-Research and Industry).

Those intermediaries tend to channel the demand for technology to the creators of technology that are expected to be more convenient to them.

It is, therefore, an easy conclusion that something else has to be done, in order to make technology transfer a tool for development.

†††† Technology promotion systems

Technology is considered as an item with a market value, so is treated as an object of common commerce. This consideration has leaded to the same techniques of promotion as commodities and services.

The usual promotion tools are:

        Fairs and expositions.

        Advertisement.

        Direct mail.

        Direct sales.

The aim of these promotional activities is:

        To sell equipment with incorporated technology.

        To make contracts for research work.

        To make franchising contracts.

        To sell technology use royalties.

The marketing methods are implemented by the offering side, so that the products or services will be sold to the users. Except the producers of equipment with incorporated technology that also use marketing to adapt their products to the needs of the potential users, all the other technology creators are using just the promotional activities.

†††††††† The demand for technology

The liberalisation of the markets, the lift of restrictions, as well as new aspects of regulations, such as environmental and ethical issues, that all led to the globalisation of the economy, have concentrated the competition on two abilities of the enterprises:

        The ability to plan and control, known as management.

        The ability to use technology which meets the requirements of:

        Creating products that satisfy the consumers desires.

        Respecting the environment and the consumersí health.

        Permitting a constant quality of the products.

        Creating a global competitive advantage, thus profits.

Although, as a result of the discoveries that over-exploitation of nature has produced dangerous commodities, there is a tendency to return to the consumption of goods produced the most natural way, it is also common sense that these side-effects can only be eliminated through quality control, procedure improvement and consumer information.

It is expected that the demand of technology will remain constant by all the economic actors, such as:

        The productive enterprises.

        The government control bodies.

        The consumer associations.

†††††††† Putting supply and demand together

The demand side is always looking for the less expensive way to best satisfy the needs or desires for a better performance.

The supply side is always looking for better prices and / or bigger sales volumes.

For both sides, since the demand side is not the final consumer but is a profit seeking entity, the interests are common. Both sides want long term regular results.

The dominating factor in this industrial market is information. Enterprises and social organisations spend a lot of money in subscriptions in special magazines, visits to expositions and fairs, participation to seminars and presentations, even visits to the producersí sites, while the supply side is doing exactly the same.

Intermediaries, on the other hand, are putting all promotional efforts in convincing both the supply and the demand side, that they are capable of advising for the best and trustworthy in the same time.

This traditional, in the sense of imitating the commodities and services market rules, way of acting in the case of technology seems by far obsolete.

Another kind of market for technology is emerging, with three main characteristics:

        It is information oriented.

        It concentrates attention on the assessment ability of the intermediaries.

        It is innovation and quality sensitive.

Proposed Information System for Technology transfer

A technology transfer system creation and management is not an easy task. There are risks to keep it very private and so limit the access to whom already has a culture for innovative technology, on one side, or to make it very public and so loose the potential users.

The market for technology, has to be, by definition, the Small and Medium size Enterprises, because:

ü      It is from todayís SMEs that big future companies will emerge.

They outnumber the big companies, both in cumulative size (capital invested, number of employees, total sales, markets that they are present, profits and so on), representing a wider and diversified market.

ü      They are more innovative and they adopt and use new technology more easily than big companies. Big companies base their activities on their stability and so they tend to follow established technologies with little innovation. When they have a breakthrough technology in their hands they either wait that someone else will launch it. In order to avoid the risk, they use a series of alternatives, such as:

ü      They create spin-off companies with some of the researchers, engineers or other personnel members.

ü      They create their own new SMEs to test the technology and itís market impact.

ü      They provide venture or risk capital together with the technology to emerging SMEs.

Yet they protect their patents. They apply to the patents offices, they pay lawyers to look for infringements and prosecute anyone who attempts to copy it. They apply it in dimensions that are financially prohibitive to the competitors; even competitors of equal or bigger size are not prepared for such investments and, of course, they keep it secret.

An information system, addressed to SMEs, on one side, and the Researchers, on the other, as well as a local middle agent, has to satisfy the needs of all the actors in an affordable way.

As for every information system, there are some elements to take into consideration, study and plan. The most important of those elements are:

ü      Information technology, as a means of communication and information storing and retrieving. This includes all, from equipment to programs, connection lines, protocols, standards to follow etc. There should be explicitly set both the technology at the start-up phase and the indicators that will signal the initiation of improvement. In general terms the starting technology should be well established and accessible for everyone.

ü      A thorough plan of trust, permissions, guarantees, security, as well as re-compensation for failures to whoever is not following the rules, in an immediate way, without having to follow the legal procedures.

ü      A training system for the intermediary agents to keep them updated with both information technology development and the technologies they handle, since they will act as consultants.

ü      A promotional system that does not compromise the secrecy needed.

ü      A general guide for good conduct concerning all the participating actors.

ü      Legal documents to bound all parties, concerning secrecy, obligations, payments, guarantees, expirations and exits.

Such an information system has to be at a large level, European at least, if not global. So it has to be based on an existing network, such as Innovation Relay Centers, Business and Innovation Centers, Innovation Response Network etc. that the European Commission created for similar reasons.

Such a decentralized intervention has the quality of being able to establish personal relations with the local actors and lead to their assessment. No information system is able to assess trust, but the challenge is how to transform personal judgments into impartial transportable, confidential and global data.

 

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[4] Authors, Journal, Volume number, Edition, YEAR, Page numbers

 

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

 

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