Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Improving Federal to Private Sector Technology Transfer: A Study Identifies Seven Critical Factors with the Greatest Impact on Whether a Transfer Attempt Succeeds or Fails

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Improving Federal to Private Sector Technology Transfer: A Study Identifies Seven Critical Factors with the Greatest Impact on Whether a Transfer Attempt Succeeds or Fails

Article excerpt

Technology transfer holds significant promise for leveraging limited government resources and providing commercial companies with new opportunities for growth and competitiveness. Technology transfer partnerships enable the government to maintain the desired level of innovation in a resource-constrained environment; under technology transfer agreements, it can receive direct monetary benefits such as licensing fees, royalty payments, work avoidance, cost avoidance, and other payments (1). Technology transfer agreements also provide such qualitative benefits as greater productivity, improved management and business practices, and better morale (1).

For commercial companies, technology transfer agreements provide access to new technologies and basic research facilities. Ultimately, technology transfer provides commercial companies with technical information that will help them to develop new and better commercial technologies and products. However, the many benefits of technology transfer can only be realized if technology transfer results in commercial success.

The objective of our research was to identify attributes or factors most strongly associated with successful technology transfer actions. The research sample included 19 technology transfer actions that originated at a division or directorate of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). Private industry participants in the transfer samples varied from sole proprietorships to Fortune 500 corporations. The technologies involved ranged from leading edge to legacy technologies.

How the Study Was Conducted

We relied primarily upon structured interviews to collect the data. For each transfer action, we interviewed a representative from both the developing and acquiring organizations. The key characteristics we used to qualify the interview subjects within the Air Force laboratories and the associated private firms included intimacy with the technology, involvement during transfer project conception, and awareness of efforts directed toward transfer project completion.

To conduct the interviews, we developed a survey instrument based on 51 potential attributes of successful technology transfer previously identified in the literature (2-20). Each question was designed to identify the extent to which an attribute was present in the sample technology transfer action, and scored on five response levels: low (l), moderately low, (m/l), moderate (m), moderate to high (m/h), and high (h). A low response indicated little or no attribute presence in the transfer action while a high response indicated a high level.

In order to determine which strategies were associated with successful transfers, we needed to distinguish between successes and failures. We classified as successes those transfers that resulted in the development of a commercial product that was subsequently sold to federal or commercial sources. In contrast, failures were classified as those technology transfer projects that were terminated prematurely and without tangible result.

Attributes of Successful Technology Transfers

The responses from the uniquely qualified individuals interviewed reveal several important findings concerning the attributes found most prevalent in successful transfers. These attributes are associated with the developers of the technology, the acquirers of the technology, and the relationship between developers and the acquirers, and are presented in the Table, next page.

These findings provide a basis for recommendations to improve public to private sector technology transfer strategies. First, we use the key developer organization findings to support the formulation of recommendations for implementation of the management of technology transfer at federal laboratories. Second, we use the key acquirer organization findings to demonstrate how federal laboratories should select potential technology transfer partners. …

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