Entovation International
Managing the Knowledge Assets into the 21st Century

Project Background

On April 28-29, 1987, the Technology Transfer Society sponsored a Critical Issues Roundtable on “Managing the Knowledge Asset Into the 21st Century: Focus on Research Consortia.”

The stimulus for this conference was a belief, shared by the co-chairs, that America’s economic vitality is inhibited by inefficiencies in transferring new technologies to the marketplace. And although our laboratories and centers of technological innovation are strong and vibrant - particularly those efforts exhibited in a broad array of R&D consortia, the co-chairs drew attention (a) to the need to reconceptualize the working concepts of “technology transfer.” and (b) to focus more attention on the need for breakthroughs in managerial technologies without which technology transfer processes cannot be accelerated.

Leaders in the science and technological research community from government, industry, and academe were invited to participate in a two-day intensive discussion on the issues and opportunities confronting our nation on the viability of our economic competitiveness. Discussants analyzed the role and practices of research consortia in this country and their impact on technology transfer throughout the three stages of the process of innovation - defined as “invention,” “translation,” and “commercialization.”

William C. Norris, Chairman Emeritus of Control Data Corporation, was presented with the first annual Justin Morril Award (see appendix C) for the vision and leadership he has provided the nation in bridging the academic/business/government divide through a variety of novel research partnerships, such as the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC) and the Mid-West Technology Development Institute (MTDI).

Sheridan Tatsuno, Senior Analyst at Dataquest Corporation, provided insight into the extraordinary research infrastructure that Japan has implemented to convert that nation from research “imitation” toward “innovation.” This realistic picture of the future competitive threat provided a backdrop for three focus groups that analyzed strategies that ought to be initiated in this country to regain our competitive economic position.

What follows is a summary of the findings of that Roundtable - major papers delivered, and program design.

Conceptual Framework

To provide a foundation to the conference, the co-chairs volunteered three conceptual constructs that are briefly summarized here.

First, the technology transfer process was proposed as a continuum of interrelated events rather than as a chain of distinct and discrete events. In the new conceptualization, technology transfer is a process that happens continuously at all points and between academic, business, and government partners. Although this model appears linear, it is intended to be dynamic, with numerous two-way feedback loops throughout the process. (See page 17 for detailed description.)

Figure 1 Technology Transfer Continuum: Rethinking the Alliance (1985 - 2005)

Secondly, an integrated technology transfer process was depicted as having a three dimensional matrix of interesting variables. One axis represents the three stages of the process of innovation: Invention, Translation, and Commercialization. The second axis represents the academic, business, and government sectors. The third focuses on (a) organizational structure of any given sector, (b) the resources allocated to it, and (c) the methods and tools available. An effective technology transfer process would optimize the inter-relationship of these variables at any given point. (See page 7 for more detailed description.)

Figure 2 Technology Transfer Framework: Elements for Analysis

And finally, it was suggested that the technology transfer process could only be truly effective if it responds to criteria established by the market. The latter were defined as performance “outcomes’ expected of world-class competitors. These outcomes, once defined, are affected by new technology initiatives in various fields, (i.e., biotechnology, electronics, and materials). These outcomes also affect (or are affected by) new managerial technologies. The latter, it is suggested, need to be reconceptualized if the technology transfer process is to beneficially affect the competitiveness of any single firm, industry, or economic region. (See page 11 for details).

Figure 3 Management Outcomes

Key Conference Findings

It was generally agreed, by the eighty-eight national leaders from industry, academe, and government who attended the conference on R&D consortia and technology transfer, that a new conceptualization was needed. This became the central thrust of the panel discussions and focus groups.

Five broad primary themes emerged from the ensuing conversations;

Process: The process of technology transfer (T2) is non-linear. This perspective argues the more conventional view that the root of all technology is in laboratory-driven-science and that it moves in a new at progression through a series of identifiable steps. One contributor, suggested, quite to the contrary, that technology is something that happens in numerous feedback loops through the proposed three stages of innovation: invention, translation, and commercialization. In this combined view, science is a pool of knowledge - to be tapped as needed - underlying all three stages rather than a single beginning point of a linear or sequential activity labeled “technology transfer.”

Old view: T2 is a linear process

New view: T2 is a concurrent process with numerous feedback loops

People: A second key theme was that technology transfer is, at heart, a process of human interactions between what one contributor defined as “at least two consenting adults.” This raised the immediate question of “who” should be involved in technology transfer and “what” qualifications they should have. The answer was that it should be the best, or most senior person required to do the job. In contrast, the conventional attitude views the transfer process as a secondary process to which the best people need not necessarily be committed or whose commitment cannot be afforded. Coupled with this understanding came the recognition that “technology” is not a deliverable that can be neatly packaged and forwarded; it is a process, and it travels best in the minds of people.

Old view: T2 consists of discrete deliverables (papers, patents, etc.)

New view: T2 is a continuous process of human interactions

Time: A third theme, coupled to the prior one, was the general agreement that technology transfer must occur in a timely fashion. As one participant suggested, it is a “real-time” process. It is something that happens by people doing and exchanging ideas rather than by creating anonymous “deliverables.” Another panelist volunteered his finding that “the key is in providing a constant stream of transfer at every single point before we can even think of calling it a technology.” In short, if a firm commits resources to a laboratory (internal or external to the company), but does not commit the people to participate directly in the commissioned work as it is going on, there cannot be a timely or constant match between the sources of new knowledge and the problem in need of a solution. . If anything, it was proposed, the corporate infrastructure has to be better nurtured to allow this process to occur efficiently. And, while there should be champions of this process, there should be “multi-receptors” for the technology within each corporation.

Old view: T2 is a sequential process from a to z

New view: T2 is a “real-time” process that occurs at the source

Organization: A fourth dominant them emerged which is central to the title of the conference: “Managing the Knowledge Asset.” It was generally agreed that we have entered an era in which knowledge - itself a volatile and perishable commodity - is a critical competitive resource of most firms. The question of “how we are to manage our knowledge inventory” drew attention tot he growing dependence of modern economics on this “abstract commodity.” If this dependence is correctly analyzed, it is incumbent on firms to focus more specifically and urgently how best to manage the creation and use of knowledge. It was argued that Tayloristic principles are still a dominant reflex in most business enterprises and that they would have to be fundamentally altered if we are to manage knowledge (and the process of technology transfer) competitively. Defining management itself as a new technology, it was suggested, is necessary as a means of focusing creative energy on developing new principles of management. This would move us away from sequential processes that tend to serialize events to processes that encourage parallel or concurrent events - with numerous means for feedback.

Old view: T2 can be managed hierarchically from the top down

New view: T2 requires new management philosophy and tools

Push/Pull: Finally, a fifth thematic subject focused on the - push/pull dynamics - of the technology transfer process. It was generally agreed that we have come out of a post - World War II period dominated, in the U.S., by a prevalent belief in the effective push of technology by laboratory generated science. That belief has been put to the test by the counterpoint, embodied in post - War Japanese experience, that successful technological innovation is pulled by the needs of the market. While it was agreed that the process is not in fact an either/or alternative, it was argued American institutional biases strongly favored the push. This is exhibited, for example, in federal research strategies favoring basic science or in the preferred status of R&D laboratory engineers over production engineers and firms. A new understanding of the pull of the market and its effects on organizations was seen as a critical concern.

Old view: T2 is a push phenomenon of ideas emanating in the lab.

New view: T2 is a complementary push/pull process of mediating laboratory capabilities to match market needs.


Although these themes only became obvious in retrospect as comments from panelists and participants were reviewed, it was concluded that new models were badly needed. Current ones are particularly inadequate in explaining the role of patents protection or the role of small companies in buying into consortia programs that today are largely the domain of large companies. In addition, there was a strong belief that current models offer little insight into how best to match the scientific capability of universities to the product and process needs of the industry.

It was also felt that there was a strong need for better or new definitions on what exactly is meant by “technology transfer” and a variety of other terms commonly associated with it. A panelist in a quotation of Seneca fittingly stated this: “If we don’t know which port we are sailing to, it doesn’t matter how favorable the wind is.”

The New Agenda

The five themes described in Section 1, (Conference Synopsis), together with several insights and recommendations in Section 4 (Focus Group Summaries), provided a framework for building the foundation for what was described by the Technology Transfer Society as “the National Campaign for Competitive Technology Transfer.”

This National Campaign is expected to provide a highly visible focus for a grassroots effort aimed at generating a broad understanding of the role of technology in economic competitiveness. There is a need to increase productive innovation, to more effectively manage our knowledge assets, and more efficiently and effectively transfer technology into commercialized products, to meet the needs of society and generate economic wealth. The Campaign is expected to serve as a catalyst for collaborations at all levels and across sectors, and thus could be the long-needed “Call for Action.”

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


© 1996-2001 ENTOVATION® International. All rights reserved.