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Assistive Technology Transfer Update


Title: Technology Transfer in Corporations
Author: Jacob N. (Jesse) Erlich
Published: 2003
Publication: Assistive Technology Transfer Update: Vol. 5 (Spring) Annual Report, 2001-2002

Private sector corporations are the critical stakeholders in the technology transfer process, because they have the capabilities to transform a technology into a product and sustain its presence in a competitive marketplace. Corporations pursue a single financial mission of creating profit (revenue in excess of cost) for its owners, through the provision of goods and/or services. Companies prefer to commercialize internally developed technologies over which they have full ownership and control. Companies may acquire other firms with desired technology if the technology and associated expertise match their core business requirements. If not, a license may grant sufficient access to technologies developed elsewhere, while avoiding internal development costs, accelerating estimated time to market, or overcoming limitations in internal capabilities.

Mr. Jacob Erlich of Perkins, Smith and Cohen LLP in Boston, noted that licenses only account for about five percent of corporate interactions with labs and universities. Corporations encourage less formal interactions because they involve fewer obligations -- translating into greater flexibility for the company in the future. Technology transfer regulations enabled new forms of corporate interaction with R&D laboratories, but these regulations do not address the cultural, organizational and operational barriers that inhibit such transfers. Corporate champions are the key to successful transfer. Champions guide the transfer process while also securing broad organizational support. This support requires agreement that a clear path to market exists, and that the financial rewards to the corporation exceed the cost and risk associated with the transfer.

While Federal Labs and universities can justify activities under multiple missions, companies necessarily focus on their single mission of generating profit. The assistive technology market traditionally received scant attention from the private sector, because the customer base was relatively small, the markets were fragmented, and most devices were purchased through third parties that set limits on client eligibility and reimbursement levels. The potential for profit was low. However, these circumstances are changing.

The customer base for assistive technology is expanding as the baby boom cohort ages into impairments, their parents extend their life spans, and people with disabilities extend their work, school and daily living options. The markets are converging as new products offer great flexibility in use, and company access to customers increases through community agencies and information technologies. Third party reimbursement levels are increasing and eligibility is expanding. More importantly, an increasing number of customers have discretionary income to purchase assistive devices themselves. The assistive technology marketplace will become more lucrative as this growing market intersects with the private sector's product planning horizons. As a result, corporations should become more willing to engage in assistive technology transfer activities, and their champions should have stronger justifications for overcoming the barriers to success.

Corporate technology transfer issues are:

  • Formalizing authority for, and rewarding participation in, transfer activities.
  • Establishing methods and metrics for business planning and implementation.
  • Identifying and internalizing industry examples of successful transfers.

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