Technology Transfer — An International Two‐way Street

Publication Date01 Jul 1987
AuthorIan A. Harvey
SubjectEconomics,Information & knowledge management,Management science & operations
Transfer An
Two-way Street*
by Ian A. Harvey
Chief Executive, British Technology
This article defines technology transfer, identifies the means
by which it can be achieved, reviews the motivations for
adopting it, assesses the performance of the UK as a
transferor, looks at how the UK funds R&D, argues for free
trade in technology and recommends selective increase in
the import of technology. It also explains the nature and aims
of the British Technology Group (BTG), giving some
examples of BTG's activity in the marine sector.
What is Technology Transfer?
Technology transfer is the process which enables a business
to benefit from technology developed outside that business.
For UK companies, the sources of technology are other UK
companies, public-sector research establishments, contract
research and similar organisations, and overseas sources
both corporate and research institutes. Technology is also
transferred from the UK to overseas companies.
Methods of technology transfer include licensing,
establishment of a new business, contract research and
development, consultancy, publication and the movement
of individuals. Where ideas are patentable, copyrightable or
capable of compilation into a document of "know-how",
licensing is often appropriate. This is particularly so if the
new technology is easily incorporated into an existing
company or industry. Where this is not the case, and
particularly where new technology inconveniently straddles
two or more industries, a new company may exploit the
technology. This also applies where there is an irreducible
amount of know-how contained in the heads of the inventors
which cannot be transmitted.
Contract research and development and consultancy have
their place where an invention is not easily protectable,
where it is not fully developed, or where a company lacks
the in-house expertise to develop an idea through to
commercial exploitation.
Publication is both a method of technology transfer and one
way of frustrating commercial exploitation of the technology.
Publication prior to securing adequate protection for an
invention will nullify subsequent efforts to protect it.
However, publication after protection may enhance the
prospects for commercialisation.
One further method of transferring technology is for a
company to recruit either the people who made the
invention in the first place, or personnel capable of receiving
the new technology.
How Does the UK Perform at Technology
A crude way of assessing the position of the UK in
technology is to examine the flow of royalties in and out
of the UK. Figure 1 shows the trend of net overseas earnings
"First presented at the Offshore and Maritime Technology Transfer 86
Conference in London, September 1986.
The author wishes to acknowledge the contribution of Martin C. Sanford,
Director, Science Division, British Technology Group.

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