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Transfer of Ideas from Research to Industry: The Case of the United States of America - page 4 / 15

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Almost all of the agricultural universities in the USA have formal outreach activities of the form that are known as extension activities.  Those with extension duties have a formal duty to educate the public, distinct from the university students.   However, most of their audience is agricultural producers or consumers.   There are comparatively few extension activities to industry.

Much of the research is conducted by universities under contracts and grants.   These contracts and grants invariably have some sort of reporting requirements.  Technology transfer is accomplished through those oral and written reports.  The majority of funding of agricultural equipment research is supplied by governmental agencies.   Accordingly, the reporting often does not go directly to industry.   However, much of it is in the public domain and is widely available.

Even though governmental agencies finance most research, industry still funds significant research.  Since industry is providing financial resources, it generally wants usable results besides just goodwill and good publicity.  Industry expects something it can use and will work to commercialize the technology if possible.   Whether industry is able to do so depends upon the university’s understanding of the situation and the research problem, the university generating practical knowledge, and the synchronization of the often very different time frames of universities and industry.

The improved technology transfer when industry is involved in the research generating the ideas and innovation has led to various mechanisms in the USA where even governmental contracts and grants require industry participation in the research.   Although the government agency still provides the majority of funds, the industry partner also has to make significant financial commitments to the project.   The rationale is that the desire for the industrial concern to get a return on their investment will motivate technology transfer.  This has become so widespread that some critics claim it is hampering innovation and basic research because high-risk or long-term activities may not be able to secure industrial participation and therefore are not pursued.

USA universities seek to aid technology transfer by establishing technology transfer offices.  For example, at the University of Florida (UF) there is the Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) which “was established in 1985 to work with inventors to facilitate the transfer of technologies created at UF to the commercial sector for public benefit” (OTL, 2007).  The OTL tries to get the faculty to submit invention disclosure or copyright work disclosure forms and then evaluates whether the university wants to pursue intellectual property claims and licensing to industry.  Figure 1 is a flowchart which describes the process.

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