Entovation International
The Collective Challenge: Optimizing the Technology Alliance

Debra M. Amidon (Rogers), senior Engineering Manager, U.S. Sponsored Research. Originally published in Managing the Knowledge Assets into the 21st Century: Focus on Research Consortia by the Technology Strategy Group and Digital Equipment Corporation, April 1987.

The purpose of this Roundtable is anything but modest - a whole new conceptualization of the technology transfer process and its impact on the competitiveness of this nation. The April 20, 1987, issue of Business Week featured a special report on “Can America Compete?”  Several points are only too familiar:

“The fact remains that the U.S. is still a creative hothouse.  Its laboratories churn out important advances and whole new technologies, from biotechnology and fiber optics to superconductivity.  And foreign students flock to U.S. universities, where they now account for 20% of al students and a staggering 55% of those studying engineering.  So the failure is not American technology - it is American manufacturing.  U.S. industry has big trouble when it comes to transforming ideas into products that can be sold on world markets.”1

The article describes how the Japanese have created a “manufacturing infrastructure that can respond with blazing speed to market demands and changing opportunities.”  It also provides a mixed review of America’s R&D performance and references some fine-tuning needed to fuel our “industrial engine.”

It was only in March that the Wall Street Journal revealed the swiftness with which the Japanese are prepared to capitalize on a technological breakthrough.

“Four days after the Houston bombshell, Japan’s Science and Technology Agency announced its intent to form a research consortium of Japanese companies, universities, and government labs.  A week later the consortium was in a place, including such industrial giants as NEC, Toshiba Corporation, Nippon Steel Corporation, and Mitsubishi Corporation.”2

Although scientists in America (and abroad for that matter) may argue about how premature such commercialization techniques might be, the story is illustrative of the dichotomy between the Japanese and American responses.  Although there are significant efforts underway within individual corporations and universities, and a bill entitled the “Superconductivity Competition Act of 1987" was filed in the Senate on March 30th, the reaction by the U.S. is somewhat modest in comparison to the Japanese initiative.

Some might suggest that this nation, indeed is in crisis and I am hard pressed to argue the point.  However, if we look carefully at the Japanese symbol denoting “crisis” (figure 1), we note that it is made up of both the “danger” and “opportunity” characters.

            Figure 1 Japanese Symbol for Crisis (omitted)

In other words, the Japanese view crisis situations as opportunities to solve identified problems. This requires a real paradigm shift for us, as Americans, to think similarly. Our challenge today is none other than to seek that optimistic shift in thinking.

Purpose of the Roundtable

This meeting was designed to bring together a cross-section of over 80 leaders in technological innovation to focus on how research consortia might enhance our efforts.  BusinessWeek entitled it “Science, Inc.”3 when it described the phenomenon of cooperative research activity such as that developed with the Cooperative Research Act of 1984.  Since that time, at least 50 consortia have been formed and many more are on the drawing boards.  The people in this room represent many of these consortia. This number does not include the Engineering Research Centers. But, in the same time period, the Japanese have formed no less than 225+, according to a Dataquest report.4  

At the recent IEEE Briefing of the R&D Budgets for the 100th Congress, one could hardly ignore the significant increase in research center activity proposed by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense.  There was also considerable discussion about the anticipated “pork-barreling” effort of more resources being allocated accordingly; all in the name of industrial competitiveness.

As most consortia and research center directors have come quickly to realize, the heart of the problem (opportunity) is the management of effective technology transfer. It is plagued and a lack of candid discussion of the interdependencies required across the sectors (i.e., government, industry, and education). We need to address a range of structural issues, assess resource support, and identify what methods and tools are most effective. Thus, the idea for this meeting was born.

In testimony given to the House Committee on Science and Technology, Lee W. Rivers, on loan to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, stated that the time is past for studying industrial competitiveness.

“We do not need more studies, we do not need more finger-pointing or fault-finding - we do need a national consensus that industrial competitiveness is essential to the key role each can play in the step-by-step process of regaining America’s position of leadership in the global marketplace.”5

A new research action agenda is needed that focuses on the transfer of knowledge across disciplines, across sectors, across industries, across the profit and not-for-profit organizations.  This new agenda will have to transcend our current thinking and serve as a catalyst for establishing a new vision of cooperative alliances.

To that end, Dan Dimancescu and I, with the help of a small planning team, have brought together those of you we feel have experience and are in a position to exchange ideas on your perception of what the new R&D enterprise might be.

Our goal is to re-craft a management agenda, which defines the technology transfer process from idea generation to profitable commercialization.

Specific objectives include :

·  Optimized utilization of natural resources

·  Redefined concept o technology transfer

·  Framework for a shared vision of the real barriers to effective transfer and new approaches for capitalizing on opportunities

Roundtable Agenda/Format

This Roundtable is not designed as a series of canned presentations describing the various programs underway throughout the nation.  Rather, the agenda calls for representatives from each of the three sectors (i.e., government, education, and industry) to provide their observations of what needs to happen to make us more internationally competitive, and - specifically - the role that R&D consortia might play. All remarks will be taped, but only for the purpose of capturing an accurate record of the issues and strategies defined.  No one will be quoted without permission, so we are hopeful that the dialogue will be open and candid.

This evening we will recognize the accomplishments of William C. Norris, Chairman Emeritus of Control Data Corporation.  In the estimation of the Technology Transfer Society, Mr. Norris best exemplifies the legacy of Justin Morrill, a person who knew how to bridge alliances across the three sectors of this nation.

During tomorrow’s luncheon presentation, Sheridan Tatsuno, a senior analyst with Dataquest Corporation, will enlighten us as to the status of the Technopolis Strategy,6 the ambitious ten-year plan to transform Japan from a society of “imitators” to a society of “innovators” through the development of a “techno-state” of research cities throughout Japan.  Modeled on our own Silicon Valley, these technopolises will feature research universities, science centers, industrial research parks, joint R&D consortia, venture capital foundations, office complexes, convention centers, and residential new towns.

The heart of the Roundtable program is the three panels - originally entitled Forecasting, Assessment, and Utilization.  We decided instead to label them according to the Stages of Innovation defined by the U.S. Department of Commerce:  Invention, Translation, and Commercialization.  Later in this paper, the steps within each stage are defined to facilitate discussion.

Each panelist was asked to prepare about 15 minutes of catalytic remarks and then all Roundtable participants are welcome to participate.

In the afternoon, we will conclude with a work session focusing on three major areas that require some fundamental initiatives: Policy, Practice, and Review.  The recommendations that surface in those discussions will help establish the framework for the National Campaign for Competitive Technology Transfer, which will be announced officially in June at the International Symposium of the Technology Transfer Society.

To help frame the discussion and optimize your input I will offer some models that I have developed over the three years of managing technology transfer activities within the External Research Program at Digital.  They are provided to guide, not limit, the dialogue.

The Technology Transfer Continuum

First, let me describe my vision of the technology transfer process, represented here by a continuum.  Several functional areas, from corporate research to final market acceptance, are identified in the model.  It is intended to b somewhat dynamic, versus linear, in that feedback loops are provided.

            Figure 2 The Technology Transfer Continuum (omitted)

Whether we refer to bringing research ideas into the corporation, moving them within line engineering groups, or integrating products through the manufacturing process, the issues (and opportunities) are still the same.  Digital even offers an extensive six-week training course in artificial intelligence for customer point-of-sale people.  The last two days of that course are dedicated to organizing technology transfer techniques to ensure marketplace adaptation.

The continuum is depicted as a color spectrum.  It is not clear exactly when the transfer takes place at each connect point in the transfer process.  And it is difficult to assign specific steps, stages, or metrics of success as a product or process moves through each cycle.  This is a challenge for all functional managers.

If we attempt to take a historical view of this continuum, one might suggest that during the post war period of 1945-1965, we could describe the timeframe as the “Basic Science Era.”  This represents a period of the founding of National Science Foundation, Federal Laboratory initiatives and the relatively non-competitive environment referred to by Dan Dimancescu earlier today.  There are mixed reactions to the strength of the links between education and industry at this point, and federal links were primarily made with the large industrial corporations and elite private institutions.

            Figure 3 Technology Transfer Continuum:  Basic Science Era (1945-1965) (omitted)

The next period, 1965-1985, we entitle “The Entrepreneurial Phase,” with the influx of venture capital activity, the efforts to commercialize the Federal Laboratory’s research, and a renewed focus on the needs of the marketplace. In this internal competitive environment, there was more focus on product than managerial processes.  We witnessed an explosion of academic research foundations, research parks, RDLP’s, incubator facilities, and the emergence of technology transfer brokerage functions.  The focus during this phase was more to the end of the continuum, and we observe evidence of the basic research investment actually declining as a percentage of the federal budget.

       Figure 4 Technology Transfer Continuum:  Entrepreneurial Phase (1965-1985)(omitted)

In this new era in which we find ourselves, and through the beginning of the 21st century, we suggest that there is a need for “Rethinking the Alliances.”  We need to re-focus on the total process as well as product technologies.  A more careful utilization of resources (i.e., technical, financial, and human resource) across the sectors is required in order to ensure more profitable gain and optimal interaction.

        Figure 5 Technology Transfer Continuum:  Rethinking the Alliance (1985-2005)(omitted)

This is the era in which we must carefully analyze our own strategies in light of the global economy.  Our goal is not to emulate the successes of cultures abroad, but rather to fully comprehend their motives and techniques in order to position our own counteractive initiatives.

For example, according to Thomas Eager, MIT Professor, Japanese competitors aggressively pool resources and technical knowledge early in the research process in order to advance the state-of-the-art.  Research studies are unified and shared widely.  In a paper entitled “Technology Transfer and Cooperative Research in Japan,”7 Eager describes how this strategy avoids unnecessary duplication, ensures efficient and effective allocation of industrial resources, and results in the rapid dissemination of new research findings.  There is no such system within the United States that so effectively integrates new knowledge into the mainstream of our economy.

The Planning Model

The process of harnessing creativity toward profitable innovation is a complex phenomenon.  There are numerous players and factors involved that both hinder and enhance the process.  Add to this scenario that the three integral partners in the research enterprise - each with its own vision and paradigm - and we have a seemingly impossible task to ensure mutual cooperative activity.

            Figure 6 The Planning Model (omitted)

In order to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the existing research infrastructure, there are at least three elements worthy of careful attention:  structure issues, resource issues, and methods/tools available for technology transfer.  At the core of the assessment is the process itself.

            Figure 7 The Planning Model:  Technology Transfer Elements (omitted)

Each panelist was provided a copy of sample questions that could be addressed from each stage in the innovation process.  The topics referenced included the roles of governing boards and participating companies, legal/contractual issues, the mix of staff/research resources, planning techniques, return-on-investment metrics, the adaptation of electronic tools, and more.

The Planning Framework

Looking at the analysis another way, a planning cube (Fig.8) can represent more graphically the interdependencies of the sectors, and it forces, in a three-dimensional nature, a more complete assessment of the different roles each sector might play at any given point in the process of innovation.

The first dimension defines the three perspectives to be analyzed, each representing an integral sector that contributes tot the research enterprise.

            Figure 8 Technology Transfer Framework:  Perspectives (omitted)

In the government sector, we must examine both the federal and the state initiatives designed to increase our economic development capacity.  Federal programs include the NSF, Department of Defense University Research Initiatives (URI), and all the federal and national laboratories now part of the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC).  On the state level, we might review statewide programs (e.g., Ben Franklin Partnership, New York Centers of Excellence, Ohio’s Thomas Edison Program, et. Al.)

In the education sector, we should examine both public and private education and the capacity to ensure our science and technological leadership for the next generation.  This could include university-base research centers, cross-disciplinary research centers, multi-university research consortia, and the myriad of activities underway within the professional societies to strengthen the academic infrastructure through changes in the curriculum, new faculty development programs, and initiatives to upgrade obsolete research facilities.

Finally, as we turn to the industry sector, we need to consider the R&D capacity nationwide across corporations and across industries. This would include corporate research laboratories as well as multi-corporation consortia (e.g., Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation, Semiconductor Research Corporation and the Software Productivity Institute). Further review might include the activities and effectiveness of specific technical societies, the Industrial Research Institute, and independent research organizations.

The second dimension of the cube defines the basic stages in the process of innovation, originally defined by D, Bruce Merrifield.8 They are Invention, Translation and Commercialization – the focus of the Roundtable Panels. Each stage in the process has significant technology transfer implications. Responsibilities within each sector differ at the various stages of the process.

Figure 9: Technology Transfer Framework: Stages of Innovation (omitted)

In an attempt to crystallize the different types of activities that might occur in one stage as opposed to another, I have developed the following diagram.

            Figure 10: The Innovation Process (omitted)

This flow chart was prepared to guide the discussion, not as a precise definition of the key steps. It is intended to force discussion at all levels of the process, rather than focus on only those steps with which we are familiar.

         Figure 11: Technology Transfer Framework – Elements for Analysis (omitted)

Structure issues range from organization design to policy decisions. There are resource needs, whether they be financial or human, required to ensure the success of any research alliance. Finally, there are methods and tools that can be used to embrace the process. Some are procedural, while others can be tangible vehicles, such as electronic communications that can ensure the production of a profitable product marketed to the customer in a timely fashion.

Strategic Planning Model

The cube provides a framework for analyzing some of the critical factors that should be evaluated when determining the viability of our research enterprise. In fact, if we contrast one cube as a snapshot of the research capability today with a similar cube which represents the vision of a desired state, we can determine the what strategies might be formulated to ensure our future success.

            Figure 12: Strategic Planning Model (omitted)

This type of strategic thinking is required, not only for each university, corporation, or government entity; it is essential that we begin to focus upon the research capacity nationwide. More importantly, we need to ensure that precious resources are being allocated wisely, and in the best interest of the enterprise.

In the newly released study, “Management of technology; The Hidden Competitive Advantage”9 the authors define how the “current intensely competitive global environment is demanding renewed emphasis on effective technology management and a re-evaluation of traditional techniques.”

They describe in detail, the roots of the problem and offer a “problem-driven” research agenda, which calls for an increased role for the national Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and NASA in promoting public awareness and financing cross-disciplinary research on the subject.

This represents a good beginning.

In Summary

If we can agree that the knowledge base of the United States is our most precious resource, then we can begin to manage it more effectively. This requires a re-thinking of how the intellectual capital of each sector – education, government and industry – should be developed and applied to the dual goals of the advancement of science and technology as well as the international competitiveness of our nation.

Although there are several corporations, like Digital, which are committed to allocating more resources toward building the necessary R&D infrastructure, cash or equipment resources are not as critical as the technical talent required to sponsor, monitor, and transfer the research results back to the corporation. I suspect that any academic or government official might have similar opinions.

It is my hope that, by the end of the next twenty-four hours, each person in this room will leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for the real challenges ahead. As Dr. Peter Bridenbaugh, Vice President for Research at Alcoa, recently said. “…where we invest our intellectual capital and curiosity, technology transfer is not an issue…”10

Quantum, rather than incremental, improvements are needed to optimize out R&D enterprise. This requires some real paradigm shifts that may have to occur in each sector to ensure we are capitalizing on the relative strengths of each. It also requires a shared vision of what it means to collectively harness our own competitive advantage.

Momentum is building with recent legislation, new resource allocation strategies, and increased attention to the technology transfer process and its role through all stages of the process of innovation. I am particularly encouraged that, indeed, we are beginning to view the economic condition in which we find ourselves as a, ‘opportunity to solve the problem.’

            Figure 13: Japanese Symbol for Bridge (omitted)

As this symbol reflects, this Roundtable affords us one such opportunity to make some connections – intellectually and personally – that will evolve into some creative solutions for this country to regain its competitive position in the world.

Let us begin by building some bridges across the sectors that protect and leverage the technological brainpower that we treasure.


1        Port, Otis and Wilson, John W., “Making Brawn Work With Brains,” BusinessWeek, April 20, 1987. Page 56.

2        Yoder, Stephen Kreidler, “Japan is Racing to Commercialize New Semiconductors.” The Wall Street Journal, March 20, 1987.

3        _____, “Now, R&D is Corporate America’s Answer to Japan, Inc.”, BusinessWeek, June 23, 1986. Page 134.

4        Tatsuno, Sheridan, “Building a Japanese Techno-State: MITI’s Technopolis Program Underway,” Research Newsletter No. 3, Dataquest. 1987.

5        Rivers, Lee W. “Time is Past for Studying Industrial Competitiveness,” Research-Technology Management, Volume 30:1. January-February, 1987.

6        Tatsuno, Sheridan, The Technopolis Strategy, Prentice-Hall Press, 1986.

7        Eager, Tomas W. “Technology Transfer and Cooperative Research in Japan,” Scientific Bulletin, ONREL 10 (3) 85.

8        Merrifield, D. Bruce, “Forces of Change Affecting High Technology Industries.”

9        Herink, Richie et al., Management of Technology: The Hidden Competitive Advantage, National Academy Press. 1986.

10       Bridenbaugh, Peter, Remarks at the Engineering Research Council Forum, American Society for Engineering Education, March 2, 1987.

11      Bridge Symbol. UMI & JITS.


© Copyright 1987 – Debra M. Amidon. All rights reserved.

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