University-Industry Technology Transfer in Germany: Implications for U.S. Partners

Article excerpt



A survey of university-industry technology transfer practices in the Federal Republic of Germany revealed how many of the organizational, financial, and legal features of the German system of higher education and research promotion impact on technology transfer in that country. As academic and commercial organizations in America play larger roles in the international technology marketplace, it is important for U.S. research administrators to understand how German technology transfer works, and what political and economic factors are in play in a country with such a vigorous economy as the Federal Republic's.

Organization of University-Industry Technology Transfer in the Federal Republic of Germany

I. Introduction

The Survey

This descriptive analysis is based upon interviews of scientists and administrators at several German research organizations, principally in the German State (Land) of North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen), and also in other parts of the Federal Republic of Germany. Interviews and discussions took place during a visit to Nordrhein-Westfalen (NR-W) by a delegation of research administrators from four North Carolina research universities and the Research Triangle Institute. The visit was sponsored by the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology to demonstrate how the structure of higher education and the organization, financing, and legal aspects of academic research influences technology transfer from academia to business in the Federal Republic. The delegation visited research laboratories at universities, area technology development centers, large industrial firms, and a national research laboratory. In addition to these visits, the author spent two weeks conducting discussions with scientists and administrators at additional sites of the same types. He also returned for more extensive visits to two of the institutions which the delegation had visited. In total, the delegation and/or the author visited seven universities, six companies, three area technology development centers, and two national research laboratories. Fifty-five scientists and research administrators were interviewed in sufficient depth that their responses contributed to the survey.

Wherever possible, interviews were arranged with officials who would have broad perspectives and experiences. Many industry officials had worked with both German and U.S. universities. Some of the university respondents had worked with both German and U.S. companies. Factual data regarding the size of programs, the number of licenses, research agreements, etc., were not readily available from many respondents and, therefore, are not used. Because the majority of the interviews and visits took place in NR-W, the examples cited are from that area. They appear representative of activities in the other lander, however.

The survey responses helped elucidate differences and similarities in U.S. and German technology transfer. This paper offers a comparison of the processes and a discussion of opportunities that may benefit American institutions contemplating collaboration with German companies or universities; American academic scientists collaborating with German colleagues in efforts involving the creation of new knowledge or applied research; and finally, American academic research administrators as they consider their role in the increasingly international market for new technologies.

The survey was completed before the revolutionary events of late 1989 that make the union of the two Germanys foreseeable and may open up the Eastern European nations for full economic interaction with Germany and the rest of Western Europe. However, the author's contacts since the survey with German colleagues reveal a cautious, "wait and see" attitude about forthcoming changes. …