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R1. Case Studies Project: "Identifying Innovative Tech Transfer Practices through Case Studies"



photo of: James Leahy
Joseph Lane

This project analyzed the critical factors involved in successful technology transfer efforts, by conducting retrospective case studies on all eleven RERC projects funded between 1998 – 2000, and conducting their work between 1998 and 2005.  The project compared the plans, process and results for eleven RERC’s funded during this timeframe, to those of the RERC on Technology Transfer during that same timeframe.

The study asked three Research Questions:

  1.  Which factors critically facilitate or inhibit the technology transfer process within and across the cases examined?

  2. Which facilitating factors appear to be innovative, particularly for addressing the constraints inherent in the AT marketplace?

  3. How could RERC’s in particular, and the AT industry in general, adopt these innovative factors to improve the technology transfer process?

The results were expected to improve the T2RERC’s understanding of how technology transfer was conducted by other RERC’s, and thereby improve both theory and practice regarding this important area of activity.

The original grant proposals were studied to identify all projects with an expressed intent to develop product outputs, and to transfer those product outputs into outcomes by technology users.  Evidence of achieving a product output consisted of creating a functional prototype.  Evidence of achieving a product outcome consisted of demonstrated use by any external entity.

Collectively, the RERC’s proposed generating four types of product outputs:

  1. Standards or Guidelines;
  2. Instruments or tools;
  3. Freeware;
  4. Commercial hardware or software.

Evidence of external use of each type of product outputs consisted of:

  1. Industry adoption of standards or clinical adoption of guidelines;
  2. Application of instruments or tools by non-RERC researchers;
  3. External requests for copies or downloads of freeware;
  4. License or sale of hardware/software intellectual property.

Collectively, the eleven RERC’s proposed 78 projects with intent to transfer across the four product categories.  Evidence of successfully accomplishing the prototype output or product outcome are as follows:

RERC Completion of Internal Prototype and External Transfers by Product Category











N projects proposed by 11 RERC’s





Total N (%) achieving Internal Prototype

12 (100+)

2 (33)

7 (44)

19 (43)

Total N (%) achieving External Transfer

11 (100)

2 (29)

2 (13)

6 (14)

The study identify a range of factors contributing to success or non-success for these projects.  One key finding was that of those projects that did not achieve the intended transfer outcome, 80% were due to operational issues related to project management and/or staff allocations, or the inability to secure a transfer partner at an appropriate point in the process.  The remaining 20% resulted from a loss of a transfer partner late in the process, or performance issues related to the subject technology.

To better understand the RERC’s levels of success, the project next conducted a content analysis of the proposal narratives.  Several forms of preliminary analysis are considered critical for successfully initiating any product development project.  The content analysis sought to identify evidence of where the RERC’s did or did not conduct these forms of analysis.  The following table shows the level of evidence on a four point scale from a zero for no mention at all to a three for a full discussion of the analysis:

Evidence of Seven Critical Forms of Preliminary Analysis in RERC Proposals

Preliminary Analysis


Score (Range 0 – 3)

Initial screening for need and demand



Technical assessment



Customer interest to build or buy



Confirm key collaborators



Assessment of uniqueness



Project implementation plan



Allocation of resources



Average for all 78 projects



The results showed that factors considered critical to commercial success are not well addressed within RERC proposals.  This is a critical gap between the models and methods applied by academic researchers, and those applied by industry developers.

The study concluded with four recommendations to grantees such as RERC’s:

  1. Avoid biases in selecting new development projects.
  2. Overcome operational barriers.
  3. Apply standard industry practices within a business model.
  4. Incorporate learned lessons into the development and transfer process.

The study also included three recommendations for Federal granting agencies:

  1. Empower applicants to allocate resources between research and development projects.
  2. Set a high standard for development project selection criteria and reviewer qualifications.
  3. Establish grantee outcome expectations congruent with the agency’s mission.

The details on the entire study are described in a special Summer 2008 issue of Assistive Technology Outcomes and Benefits, published by the Assistive Technology Industry Association.  The paper is titled:  “Delivering on the D in R&D: Recommendations for Increasing Transfer Outcomes from Development Projects.” 

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