What's Wrong with Technology Transfer Model Adaptation?

Posted: 30 Apr 2008

See all articles by Shiri M. Breznitz

Shiri M. Breznitz

University of Toronto - Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy

Date Written: 7/2007


Worldwide, universities are currently finding themselves in a heated debate over their role in fostering entrepreneurship and economic growth. Moreover, due to the commercialization success of a few universities, their models of technology transfer are being adopted in other universities around the world. Theories that encourage university involvement in the region perceive a straightforward positive correlation between the level of the university contribution, the resources it invests, the professionalism of the technology transfer office, and industrial growth in the region. Thus, according to these theories, adaptation of a successful model, i.e. investment in technology transfer, will have positive results on local economic growth.

Utilizing a case study of the University of Cambridge, its commercialization policy and technology transfer organization, this paper tests existing theories and finds that the adaptation of other universities' technology transfer models is not a guarantee for success. To succeed, universities must take into consideration the historical and environmental factors that influence their ability to commercialize technology and adjust their new technology transfer model accordingly. Moreover, universities can try to improve technology transfer and entrepreneurship; however, their impact will not necessarily be positive.

The University of Cambridge is known around the world as an important source of technology and, particularly, as the base around which one of the largest European biotechnology clusters has formed. Due to pressure from the UK government, starting in 1999, the university has been changing its technology transfer policy and organization, investing resources in an attempt to adopt the American university model and improve its technology transfer capability. This paper follows the university through these changes and analyzes their impacts.

Our findings indicate that the original technology transfer model employed by the university, i.e. a hands-off attitude toward technology transfer, allowed for greater flexibility that was a critical factor in the establishment of the biotechnology cluster. The new changes, which aimed at improving this model, instead resulted in a rather negative view of the effectiveness of the technology transfer by both industry and faculty members. Indeed, our analysis suggests that the changes and resources invested by the university - to enhance university-industry collaboration - had the opposite result. This paper proceeds as follows: first, we discuss existing theories on technology transfer, including historical, environmental, and intra-university factors such as university policy, organization, and culture. The methodology, including the case and industry selection, is presented next. Next, we discuss existing conditions in the region, analyzing both regional and national levels factors contributing to the university's ability to disseminate academic ideas to the private market. Then we analyze the technology transfer transformation at the University of Cambridge, including structure and policy, and follow this with a discussion of the local biotechnology industry's view on the changes implemented by the university. Finally, the paper concludes by contending that, no matter how successful, it is impossible to take another university's technology transfer model off the shelf. Such an attempt must include a modification of the model to comply with the local history, policy, and environment for technology transfer. An implementation of a model without such steps can have negative results on the institution's capability to disseminate technology to the private market.

Keywords: university, Technology transfer, Cambridge, Biotechnology

Suggested Citation

Breznitz, Shiri M., What's Wrong with Technology Transfer Model Adaptation? (7/2007). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1127236

Shiri M. Breznitz (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy ( email )

Toronto, Ontario

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