Academic journal article Innovation: Organization & Management

A Firm Perspective on Commercializing University Technology

Academic journal article Innovation: Organization & Management

A Firm Perspective on Commercializing University Technology

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Businesses worldwide have suffered in the recent global financial crisis. According to the adage, firms must grow continuously or else they will die, and innovation appears to be essential for such growth. Leveraging external research resources enables firms to accelerate innovation and launch new and improved products and services. An increasing number of firms collaborate with universities and public research labs or acquire their technology for commercialization, as evidenced by the success of Taxol, Google, and Yahoo-Wretch. Academic involvement in commercializing technology has grown steadily since the passage of the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980, which makes universities the key catalyst and engine of economic development (Powell & Owen-Smith 1998).

This study was motivated by several gaps in the literature on commercializing academic technology. While a growing number of studies have examined the perspective of faculty/inventors or university technology management (e.g., Thursby et al. 2001; Agrawal 2006; Nerkar & Shane 2007) and cooperation between faculty/inventors and industry (e.g., Cockburn & Henderson 1998; Santoro & Bierly 2006), the relationship between university technology and firm decisions regarding commercialization remains poorly understood. Notably, sporadic studies have adopted a firm perspective to examine academic entrepreneurship (e.g., Lee 2000; Thursby & Thursby 2002, 2004). Moreover, although most studies have focused on commercial channels of university research, such as consulting, patenting, licensing, and spin-offs (e.g., Thursby et al. 2001; Rahal & Rabelo 2006), few empirical works have examined posterior commercialization, which is defined as the achievement of product sales or integration to the operational process that uses the acquired technology (aside from Agrawal 2006; Nerkar & Shane 2007). This study attempts to fill this gap in the literature by examining the holistic effects of technology, transfer interfaces, and compensation structure in association with commercialization.

Cultural differences between academia and industry make the university-industry barrier difficult to cross (Powell & Owen-Smith 1998). Reasons for this difficulty include differences in norms, lack of a shared language, and low mutual trust during the commercialization process when technology is implicit and uncodified. Technology disclosure, especially patenting, reduces the implicitness of technology, but does not imply that a firm can easily apply or replicate the technology. Successful commercialization requires firms to assess the technological distance of the technology based on their technological competence and deploy resources to manage the acquisition and incorporation of technology from external sources (Leonard-Barton 1988; Stock & Tatikonda 2004). Emphasizing the relationship between interorganizational interfaces and technology transfer is common in empirical studies of strategic alliances and research consortiums (e.g., Simonin 1999), but the commercialization of academic technology is rarely synthesized with the nature of technology (Nerkar & Shane 2007). Relationship development (guanxi in China and Taiwan) and harmonious interactions are expected to foster commercialization, but most studies do not generally consider how the development of long-term relationships bridges academic knowledge transfer (Ramasamy et al. 2006).

This study applies the contingency models of Leonard-Barton (1988) and Tatikonda and Stock (2003) to incorporate these factors into university-industry interactions. Given the embedded technological competence of recipients, Leonard-Barton (1988) state that continuous interaction via dynamic alignment and mutual adaptation between technology and user environments is essential to the initial technology- implementation stage. Stock and Tatikonda (2004) argue that external technology integration involves a recurring process of managing technology supply chains and interorganizational interfaces, which requires support from a well-developed portfolio of organizational skills. …

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