Now, a decade after the global financial crash, universities and government institutions are still finding research dollars in less plentiful supply. Against this economic backdrop, more so than ever these organizations are seeking to capitalize on their homegrown intellectual property (IP) by licensing their ideas and patented inventions to commercial organizations. Indeed, the technology transfer phenomenon is well and truly underway, but the level of impact being seen varies by country and industry.
The role of tech transfer
Tech transfer has provided the world with numerous scientific products that would otherwise have never existed, many of which have had a life-changing impact on the global population. The cancer drug paclitaxel (Taxol), for example, came to fruition from tech transfer, as did hepatitis B vaccines, water sanitizers, light-emitting diodes, the leukemia drug imatinib (Gleevec) and artificial joints, along with many other important innovations.
The sharing of discoveries between public institutions and commercial businesses expedites innovation and gets products to market faster. On a broader scale, the flow of technology also provides positive economic impacts, and consequently, all around the world, governments seek to encourage tech transfer within their country and beyond; however, analysis of available data shows that the success of these efforts varies significantly.
The global tech transfer landscape is booming
The success of tech transfer can be seen across the globe. In China, technology transfer has witnessed significant growth in recent years, with the Chinese government putting significant focus on the value of applied research (as opposed to basic research) and the importance of commercializing those applied innovations. The Chinese government invested over $10 billion in research in 2015, and it is predicted that scientific research will contribute to 60% of their total economic growth by 2020.
In Japan, the government has also been strongly encouraging the flow of commercially viable ideas from public institutions to the private sector. Japanese universities have produced roughly 7,000 patent applications annually over the past few years, with the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University and Osaka University among the most prolific tech transfer centers. However, despite this impressive output, recent studies indicate Japan could capitalize even further on its IP knowledgebase. Indeed, Japanese IP-derived income represents only about 20% of the IP revenue of similarly sized countries, showing opportunity for even more growth.
In Europe too, some argue that more could be done to capitalize on applied research. Despite an abundance of high-quality academic innovations, some believe that resulting intellectual property is not commercialized quickly enough. There are thought to be several factors behind this so-called “European Paradox”. A previous study found that one contributing factor may be the fact that European tech transfer offices typically employ fewer people with hands-on business knowledge than their American counterparts.
Measuring tech transfer success
While revenue derived from tech transfer is one yardstick to compare global success, another metric to consider is patent activity. Here, recent data from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reveal further insights into the global tech transfer story.
When the numbers of domestic patent applications are considered in the context of country population size, Japan’s output (~2,000 patent applications per million inhabitants annually) is considerably higher than other nations, such as Germany, China and even the United States. While countries such as Spain are less active, with just shy of 100 patents per million inhabitants.
However, another way to examine these records is to normalize the number of public or government organization-assigned patents in each country to a single year of U.S. R&D funding. This approach provides a true reflection of patent activity independent of variations in funding. Through this lens, while Spain is on the low end of patenting activity overall, their public organizations provide a healthy return on investment.
These analyses highlight that countries demonstrating a high level of patenting activity are not always those most effective at capitalizing on IP. When it comes to generating revenue, countries with larger “IP-intensive industries” are better equipped to build on tech transfer opportunities than those less focused on IP-based business.
For a more detailed analysis and additional data on global technology transfer, download this article.
In-depth analysis uncovers opportunities
Technology transfer is increasingly recognized as an important economic driver and business development strategy across a wide range of industries around the world. However, recent economic data around patenting activity and IP-derived revenue highlight regional differences driven by economic and policy factors.
When it comes to spotting global tech transfer opportunities, on-going in-depth data analysis is required. With thousands of research articles and patent applications published every day around the globe, relevant technology could arise anywhere at any time. It is important to know what kinds of opportunities your organization is looking for and hunt for them continuously. Though this is a daunting task, a well-structured monitoring program can integrate this effectively into organization workflows to make sure nothing is missed, paying dividends in your overall strategy and providing a competitive advantage. However, if that is not feasible, annual review projects as part of the strategic planning process can also be effective to highlight the most relevant opportunities.
Interested in specific tech transfer opportunities to drive growth in your business? See how CAS can help.