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Transfer of Ideas from Research to Industry: The Case of the United States of America - page 12 / 15

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turn supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  This sensor is reflectance-based and is claimed to avoid alignment and other problems.  The reflected intensity is proportional to the mass flowrate.  A patent (Thomasson and Sui, 2004) was issued to the university covering the technology.  The researchers (who are now both at Texas A&M University) worked with cotton growers and precision agriculture companies.   As a consequence, one of the companies (Agricultural Information Management LLC) licensed the patent and tried to market it.  The monitors were extensively tested in Texas, Georgia, and Mississippi (Sui, et al., 2004) but it was not commercially successful.   AIM (the Lambert, Mississippi licensee) now sells the AgLeader system (AIM, 2007).

In all three cases of cotton yield monitor research and development, there were good relationships between the public sector universities (Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi State) and the public sector companies (CaseIH/AgLeader, John Deere, Agricultural Information Management).  This enabled the transfer of ideas.

PROMOTION OF TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER

Technology transfer ultimately comes down to the inclinations and hard work of the individual engineers and scientists.   They must want to transfer and knowledge and make the efforts necessary to do so.   However, the success can be facilitated by nature of the environment in which the engineers and scientists work.   Experiences in the USA have shown some characteristics which promote technology transfer.

First of all, there must be investment in the public sector to generate the basic and applied knowledge to be transferred.   Usually these investments are made by national or state/provincial governments.   But another type of investment which tends to focus research on advances which can be transferred is one which involves industry, either directly or through some sort of partnership with the government.   An example in the USA of the latter form is the National Science Foundation’s GOALI program (NSF, 2007).

The researchers developing new technologies must also be broadly aware of advances in technology, both within their own field and throughout science and technology.   This allows them to imagine technologies and their applications.   The importance of breadth is seen in the many advances that are made at the borders of disciplines.

The promotion of technology transfer is facilitated when there is some reward to the public sector and its employees for successful technology transfer.   This can take the form of licensing fees, increased investments, or other financial rewards.   Alternatively, or in addition, the reward structure might award prestige or social recognition and standing to the public sector institutions and personnel for their efforts and successes.

Since it is very difficult to predict what will be commercially successful and what private sector firms will be successful in the commercialization, the society should be structured so that many ideas are brought forward to succeed or fail on their own merits and so that many private sector firms will have an opportunity to succeed.  

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