Organizational conflicts affecting technology commercialization from nonprofit laboratories

Publication Date01 Dec 1995
AuthorCharles R. Duke
Although marketing approaches should start ideally with the consumer’s
needs, laboratories in universities and government agencies have many on-
the-shelf innovations which have not yet found an appropriate application.
Nonprofit laboratories include all the centers of science, engineering, and
innovation that are not associated with commercial companies. These
include most research universities, federal facilities which develop new
technology, state agencies (e.g. agricultural experiment stations, marine
biology, as well as any other nonprofit group). Since the governing
organization (e.g. university or a federal agency such as the Department of
Defense, or a state agency) most often owns the rights to funded research at
its facility, companies which want to use the new innovation for
commercial purposes must obtain the rights for the use (as well as help in
product development) from the laboratory management.
Gaining access to this available technology is often difficult, given the
rules, regulations, and other problems that stand in the way of
commercialization (Spivey et al., 1994). These barriers can be frustrating
for not only the inventor and a potential partner, but also for the person
given responsibility for commercializing the intellectual property. Some of
these barriers and difficulties stem from conflicting goals which affect how
insiders market an institution’s technology and how outsiders approach an
institution to gain technology (Russo and Herrenkohl, 1990). By
recognizing the conflict areas, those involved with product
commercialization can better understand the interest of the inventor and
his/her managers in various projects and better plan their approaches to
selling the organization on the benefits of going through the effort to
commercialize technology. A brief discussion of these major issues will
illustrate the biases present in management attitudes and interest.
This article discusses basic concepts of conflict in organizations, relates
these issues to the amount of management and innovator interest in product
commercialization, and then suggests issues (or circumstances) which
should be considered in developing market approaches for technology
generated in university or federal laboratories.
Natural conflicts in organizations
Conflict will always exist in organizations. Sometimes this is a healthy sign
of constructive change. At other times, conflict can reduce the ability of an
organization to complete a task (Quinn, 1988). In product
commercialization, most situations would benefit from conflict reduction.
However, the interest or involvement of the manager and the innovator may
be influenced heavily by the perceived conflict existing from many
potential sources. Some of those sources include the following:
Organizational conflicts
affecting technology
commercialization from
nonprofit laboratories
Charles R. Duke
Many innovations remain
on the shelf
Barriers to

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