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Assistive Technology Transfer Update

 

Title: Supply-Push Program
Author: James A Leahy
Published: 1999
Publication: Assistive Technology Transfer Update: Vol. 1 Issue 1 (Spring)

One of the programs of the new T2RERC is the Supply-Push Model of Technology Transfer. Under this model, the assumption is made that many useful products have already been invented, but they are not available to consumers because the inventors lack resources to move the invention to the marketplace. Solutions exist and we simply need to push them out to meet and resolve problems. The methods the RERC will employ to implement the Supply Push Model are varied.

Seeking potential products

Invention competitions are one of the sources of technology and products that the RERC on Technology Transfer will draw on for new products in the Supply-Push Model. We will be attending two national competitions in the next year: the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)'s Conference and Exposition; and the Discover Awards. These competitions were chosen for their national exposure and the screening that precedes a technology or patent being exhibited at these shows. As an example, prior to a device being exhibited at the USPTO Conference and Exposition, the device is graded on its commercial market potential and its technological advancement in addition to its being a newly issued patent.

All devices at the exhibitions will be evaluated for possible assistive technology applications. Inventors of those devices deemed having a new and useful application in assistive technology will be approached at the exhibition and asked to complete a project submission package. They will then forward the completed invention disclosure package to the RERC on Technology Transfer for commercialization assistance.

Checking patents and partners

Another method in locating new technology and products that the RERC will mine is the USPTO's database on patents. On a biweekly basis, the RERC will access the database for newly issued patents. A database search by U.S. Patent Classification will enable us to quickly ascertain if any patents were issued in classifications that would normally house assistive technology. Upon verifying the patent's functional uniqueness, we will contact the inventor for purposes of further research (learning if a working prototype exists, are any commercialization efforts underway, etc.) It is at this point where we will invite the inventor to complete a project submission package and forward a complete invention disclosure package to the RERC.

Other methods being employed by the RERC to solicit assistive technology inventions include ongoing canvassing of NIDRR's other RERCs for new breakthrough technologies they possess that may have a commercial application in assistive technology. Researchers will be contacted by the RERC on Technology Transfer's supply-push program to explain the program and qualify any product or technology the researchers may have which they feel is appropriate for the RERC. Upon such qualification, the researcher will be asked to complete a project submission package.

Lastly, AZtech has committed to continuing the predecessor RERC on Technology Evaluation and Transfer's inventor assistance program. AZtech will assist inventors in bringing new technologies to market through a brokering program called "Innovations". The Innovations program was established to link new inventions in the field of assistive technology with manufacturers in the marketplace. The new RERC on Technology Transfer will periodically screen submissions to AZtech's Innovations program. Devices which appear to be a significant product or technology breakthrough in the field of assistive technology will be brought into the RERC's supply-push program for possible commercialization.

Reducing rejections

From our experience with the open solicitation of inventors by the RERC on Technology Evaluation and Transfer, we found that the majority of inventors contacting us for commercialization assistance were rejected in our initial screening process. Rejection reasons varied from existence of a competing product unbeknownst to the inventor, to technical unfeasibility, to existence of other technology that performs the same function, to not being an assistive device, to the almost non-existence of a market for a potential product.

By having the new RERC on Technology Transfer focus on prescreening devices for its Supply-Push Model through the aforementioned four channels, we hope to eliminate the vast amount of invention submission rejections we experienced in the past.

The road to the marketplace

Upon the completion of the prescreening of devices, the RERC on Technology Transfer runs another exhaustive series of evaluations. The evaluation approves only new and unique inventions that demonstrate technical feasibility, market potential, and consumer acceptance. We then proceed to secure an agent agreement with the inventor. This allows us to seek a commercial partner and form a product team comprised of members from our technical, marketing, and consumer groups. These team members lay out a scope of work and timeline for commercialization of the submitted device. The T2RERC partners begin a number of "Action Steps", which include: Identifying relevant product manufacturers; More in-depth literature search on competing products; A literature search for technical references, standards and regulations; Consumer input through focus groups held on the device to determine possible product enhancements and priority ranking of characteristics; Technical analysis detailing device characteristics, technical feasibility, and product enhancements; Market analysis with a competing product matrix benchmarking (contrasting) competing products versus the submitted device's characteristics; Identification of the target market, distribution channels; Supporting documentation in the way of CAD (computer-assisted drawings), pictures, or graphics; and a virtual product matrix.

The product team then integrates all this material into a commercialization package that is sent to prospective, previously identified, companies doing business in that device's specific market sector.

Therefore, by prescreening devices, conducting exhaustive evaluations, and providing professional commercialization packages, the RERC on Technology Transfer hopes to impact the lives of people with disabilities by introducing useful new AT (assistive technology) products into the marketplace via its Supply-Push program of Technology Transfer.

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