Academic journal article Innovation: Organization & Management

Technology Intermediaries in Low Tech Sectors: The Case of Collective Research Centres in Belgium

Academic journal article Innovation: Organization & Management

Technology Intermediaries in Low Tech Sectors: The Case of Collective Research Centres in Belgium

Article excerpt

The capacity to apply new knowledge and techniques has a significant impact on economic growth (OECD, 1989, p. 41) and urges governments worldwide to take initiatives to put firms into a position to tap into the technological progress that has been made around the globe. Further, the observation made by the European Commission that not all developed and publicly available knowledge gets automatically converted into commercial products or processes (European Commission, 2002), has given rise to a number of initiatives aimed at knowledge and technology transfer. In addition, the tendency of firms to open up their innovation process also stimulated the need for firms to look for knowledge and technology outside their walls (Chesbrough, 2003). Cooperation is one way of getting insight into outside R&D results (Tether, 2002). Yet some firms, short on internal capabilities, face the challenge of accessing these R&D results. Technology transfer involves the mobilisation of technology, information and technical know-how between organisations (Bozeman, 2000). The government initiatives to stimulate technology transfer are diverse in nature. Polt et al. (2001) distinguishes between four sets of policy-related framework conditions. These include legislation and regulation that may act as incentives for industry-science relations (ISR), such as regulation on intellectual property, public promotion programmes often providing financial resources for ISR, the establishment of intermediary structures and regulations to affect institutional settings in higher education and public research establishments.

The different types of technology transfer have led to different streams of research on technology transfer. One group of researchers has focused on academic spin-offs (Audretsch & Stephan, 1996; Debackere & Veugelers, 2005; Zucker, Darby, & Armstrong, 1998), whereas other researchers have studied licensing of intellectual property (Di Gregorio & Shane, 2003; Siegel, Waldman, & Link, 2003; Thursby & Thursby, 2002), contract research (Poyago-Theotoky, 2002) and graduate and researcher mobility (Argote & Ingram, 2000). Many researchers have studied the role of the technology transfer office (Debackere & Veugelers, 2005), science parks and incubators (Phan, Siegel, & Wright, 2005), but have neglected to a large extent the role of other technology intermediaries. The focus of this paper is on the third type of policy-related framework conditions, namely the establishment of intermediary structures for ISR.

Although the existing literature on technology transfer and intermediation is large and multifaceted, several shortcomings remain. First, many articles have focused on new and promising industrial activities building on the latest scientific insights, hereby focusing to a large extent on spinoffcreation (OECD, 2002b; Polt et al., 2001), technology transfer at universities (Debackere & Veugelers, 2005), university licensing (Thursby, Jensen, & Thursby, 2001) and academic patenting (Mowery & Ziedonis, 2007); leaving technology intermediaries, apart from technology transfer mechanisms at universities and research institutes, largely understudied.

Second, many researchers have focused on technology transfer in high tech sectors, such as biotech, nanotech and microelectronics (Markman, Phan, Balkin, & Gianiodis, 2005). Hence, a good deal of attention has been devoted to the emerging sectors leaving the insights for traditional sectors understudied (exceptions are von Tunzelmann & Acha, 2004). As Pisano (2006) notices there is need for a new design for all businesses relying on basic science. Chesbrough and Crowther (2006) also plea for the study of open innovation practices in traditional industries. Indeed, firms in traditional industries, and especially SMEs in these industries often lack the necessary absorptive capacity. This absorptive capacity allows firms to recognize the value of new, external information, assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends (Cohen & Levinthal, 1990). …

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