Technology Transfer

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I would assume that every country on Earth invest in science . Assuming we don't ask why investing in research is a good strategy, we can focus on the next step, how to transform the results into actionable knowledge that can benefit society. This is generally referred to as Technology Transfer .

The process has many different mechanisms that highly depend on the country, the funding agencies , and the field. A possible train of thought that permeates everything is associated with risk : research is inherently a risky endeavor. This risk is absorbed by the state.

  • In biopharma it is common to patent a discovery, and license it to a company. Part of the risk was overcome by the discovery, but part of the risk is latent because of regulatory needs .
  • In social sciences research products are more malleable and very seldom lead to a patent. These businesses focus on consulting or perhaps some tool development such as recruitment questionnaires, personality assessment, etc.
  • In physics or engineering it is common to develop tools that lead to patents. However, it is common that no one is willing to license the technology. In this case, the development needs to be pushed further by the researchers themselves.
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Computer Science

One of the biggest concerns with technology transfer is that if risk is absorbed by public money, then there should be a fair payback. Public money is not meant to make individuals rich but to increase the well-being of society as a whole.

Licensing agreements ensure cash flow back to universities and institutions, but they may also give raise to discretionality and hence corruption. In many cases, the intellectual property is badly accounted for. For example, software developed as part of research projects can be transferred to companies without any formality being involved.

The bureaucratic overhead must not limit the technology transfer , however. That is why I believe there should be a much more open discussion regarding intellectual property in universities , what happens when students are involved (they are not employees), how is money funneled back to research and how to incentivize researchers to pursue some level of transfer without dereliction of their duties.

Part of the problem is that conflict of interest is always associated with money. However, in academia , conflict of interest may take the form of prestige, reputation, even attraction of research funding that does not make anyone rich.

Examples of risk absorption

In Europe, the ERC has special funding called proof of concept grant that is aimed exactly at developing technology out of a research program.

In The Netherlands, NWO has a scheme called Take off grant , that starts as a subsidy and evolves into a loan .

What to read

I am looking for reports, books, papers that tackle the issue of technology transfer in different countries. Which policies lead to what results.

Aquiles Carattino
Aquiles Carattino
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