Technology Transfer - Both Ways

Jacek T Gierlinski, WS Atkins Consultants Ltd., Epsom, UK.

Jan Holnicki-Szulc, IFTR, PAS, Warsaw, Poland.

Abstract The paper presents a model for two-way technology transfer involving research institutions in CEECs and commercial organisations in EU countries. The bases are different but complementary. In CEECs large groups of scientists are developing highly complex, state-of-the-art theories sometimes, however, without a clear vision of their practical applications. In EU countries there are numerous research and technology consultancies with good understanding of market needs, well developed techniques for technology evaluation and good management practices for collaborative research ventures. The research organisations need closer contacts with high-technology industry while the consultancies want to strengthen their theoretical know-how foundations. These two types of organisations are thus natural partners for collaboration and meaningful technology transfer.
The proposed technology transfer model is explained on the example of collaboration between IFTR, the technological research institution of the Polish Academy of Sciences and a British company, WS Atkins, one of the largest technology consultancies in the UK.




Introduction

In the face of ever stronger competition in science and technology from USA, Japan and Far East countries an effective cooperation in R&D and technology transfer is of critical importance for Europe. This is well understood by the EU countries, where for over a decade various R&D Programmes (eg. BRITE/EURAM, ESPRIT, etc.) provide a suitable framework for collaboration in development and exploitation of basic and industrial research. Apart from numerous technological achievements this collaboration helps to create strong working links between diverse industrial and academic institutions. Further advantages in strengthening of the European competitive position can be expected from involving CEECs into such cooperation. In many disciplines these countries have developed a strong science base and in a favourable conditions can contribute substantially to the European technological potential. With recent introduction of new R&D Programmes (eg. COPERNICUS) a formal structure for such cooperation has been created. This structure is now filled with practical examples of collaboration and technology transfer (see for example CORDIS data). The presented paper discusses a model for technology transfer involving a consultant from the UK and a research institution from Poland.


Technology transfer format

Lecture of publications concerned with science policy in Poland (eg. [1]) provides a lot of evidence of importance given to the scientific research in the future of Poland on the global market. Equally, technology transfer plays a prominent role in strategies for future development. In this context two principal routes for technology transfer are identified: one representing transfer of internal R&D to the industry and the other representing transfer of externally developed technologies, mainly through licensing or presence of international manufacturers. While the second of these routes is, by its nature, lead by industrial activities the first one seems to be the exclusive concern of academic communities with relatively weak presence of representatives from the industry. This situation reflects the domination of the science-push side and may not result in optimal use of the research potential. Deficiency of such domination could be better understood if we consider an example of criteria for selection of strategic research priorities and generic technologies, such as these developed recently in the UK [2]: (1) demand-pull opportunities; (2) factors affecting a country's ability to exploit those opportunities; (3) science-push opportunities; (4) factors affecting a country's ability to take advantage of these scientific opportunities; and (5) costs. The demand side, associated with the industrial activities, takes prominently the two first places. Similar approach to exploitation of the science base and technology transfer can also be seen in other EU countries and more decisive industrial involvement is likely to be beneficial for Poland.

There are many models for technology transfer such as secondments of personnel from academia to industry and vice versa, encouragement's of link building between industrial organisations and research institutions, creation of various government technology support units and independent technology directorates, etc. In this paper a model based on collaboration between a research institution and a private consultant is considered. Such model is of particular relevance for CEECs where the industrial demand-pull is relatively weak and facilitating role played by commercial research organisations could be particularly helpful.

Technology transfer policies of collaborating partners

The model for technology transfer discussed in this paper involves collaboration between IFTR, a world renown scientific institution engaged in basic research and WS Atkins, a private consultancy with strong industrial background. In this section individual policies for technology transfer of these two organisations are presented.

Institute of Fundamental Technological Research

IFTR is the leading technology research institute in Poland with very strong research teams (engineers, physicists, mathematicians). The policy of IFTR is to conduct basic research with simultaneous activities in transfer of the developed knowledge to the industry.

The industrial demand for R&D results in Poland is currently very low. Industrial companies are deeply involved in day-to-day problems of productivity, administration, marketing, etc. and generally speaking, the desire for improvement of competitiveness through R&D programmes is non existent. That is why, for the time being, current policy of IFTR is to direct technology transfer to organisations from EU countries (rather than directly to Polish companies), by means of participating in multinational research teams and to develop the culture for technology transfer at the supply side in Poland. Simultaneously and wherever possible efforts are undertaken to involve representatives from the Polish industry. While this is not easy, SMEs, through their mobility and understanding of market economy, are best prepared to take advantage of the immediate access to results from the advanced research conducted at IFTR. In establishing direct contacts with industrial EU's companies IFTR is looking for collaborative ventures with academic and consultancy partners there. In pursuing such approach IFTR is learning from the experience of other academic institutions and good example here could be the activity of CIMNE (International Centre for Numerical Methods in Engineering) in Barcelona vigorously developing contacts with the Spanish industry and animating technology transfer there. The final goal of IFTR activity is to stimulate the real needs for R&D results among Polish industry and to establish technology transfer between partners in Poland

WS Atkins Consultants (WSA)

WSA is one of leading management and technology consultancies in UK. It provides professional, technologically-based consultancy and support services. WSA serve clients both in the public and private sectors through its offices in the UK, the Middle East, the Far East, Continental Europe and the US. Its strategy is to maintain and develop a broad base of technological disciplines and skills across our consultancy business.

WSA interprets technology transfer in two separate ways. First, it means the degree to which it employs technology transfer in operating its business and in transferring knowledge and techniques to its clients. Second, it means the degree to which WSA advises third parties on appropriate ways of exploiting the results of R&D by the development and marketing of products and services and by the management of patents and licenses.

Considering the first way, which is associated with the model discussed here, WSA places considerable reliance on technology transfer in developing its consultancy business and in providing a service to its clients. A number of different types of transfer modes take place: transferring technology from one sector to another; licensing technology from third parties; licensing technology to third parties; transferring technology from academia to industry use; converting internal services to successful commercial businesses; seeking strategic acquisitions which complement existing WSA capabilities.

These transfer modes are associated with a specific industrial sector selected on the basis of marketing activity which includes:

Of particular relevance for discussion here is mentioned earlier technology transfer from academia. Typically this has a form of a joint participation in research projects where a scope of R&D work, targeting a specific technical problem, is shared between WSA and the research partner. The task for academic partner involves a leading role in development of a new methodology or enhancement of the existing one. During this stage WSA staff shadows research work and acquires the necessary know-how for future exploitation of the new technology. On the other hand WSA leads promotional activities, such as conference presentations, publications or specific industrial presentations, through selling and finally the client support. It also provides project management and administration.

Model for technology transfer

Public financial support for scientific activities and a high status of scientists in the CEECs has lead to creation of many research centres which employ well qualified and talented scientific personnel. Significant proportion of these is engaged in basic research where often the main motivation is personal interest of a scientist. Thus, research teams cluster around the strong individuals with international reputation, who are able to assist in obtaining attractive placement abroad.

In EU countries high technology industries create a strong demand for continuously improved technologies. However, direct results of R&D work undertaken by the academia are often in prototype forms, with little robustness and usability. Furthermore, these results should be more closely associated with industrial requirements and commercialised. This requires broad understanding of the target industry including technological, operational and human issues. Also, due to strong competition on the research market this technology transfer must be effectively managed. The above industrial know-how is available with research consultancies which frequently found their business on exploitation of links between the industry and academia.

These two types of organisation, therefore, consultant and research centre, are natural partners for collaboration in technology transfer. The consultant provides initial contacts with the industry and identifies specific R&D requirements. The research centre undertakes the R&D work. Results of this activity are commercialised by the consultant. This form of collaborative technology transfer is beneficial for both partners. For the research centre it creates the opportunity to participate in exploitable research which is attractive for the industry, thus providing important feedback and stimulus for future research. It also allows the research centre to gain an insight into management of research activities on a commercial basis. For the consultant, close involvement in research work provides straight access to state-of-the-art knowledge, often ahead of a wider public availability. Mutual association of the two organisations improves also the overall credibility of the results - from the scientific and commercial point of view.

There is also other important implication. Taking into account that labour costs in CEECs are about a quarter of the comparable costs in EU countries allows considerable flexibility in planning and conducting the research work, which is the highest risk part of the whole undertaking. Therefore, overall exposure of the project is much reduced.

Example of bi-laterral collaboration

In previous section the main objectives for technology transfer by the consultant and the research institute are discussed and their complementary nature is exposed. This complementarity creates opportunity for successful collaboration.

An example of the presented model for technology transfer is illustrated below on the collaboration between WSA and IFTR. First, in response to requirement form the offshore industry to exploit potential reserves in the current design and assessment methods for offshore structures WSA undertook the project to develop a computer code for system reliability analysis. In its initial stage it quickly become apparent that existing methods for collapse analysis of offshore structures are too expensive and a radically new approach was indispensable. Looking for a solution WSA had engaged in dialogue with IFTR where a new method for structural remodelling was under development. One of main attraction of this method was its superior computational efficiency and suitability to include arbitrary structural modifications. After close investigation it become apparent that this approach could be generalised to include other applications, such as analysis of collapse behaviour which was required for the system reliability. Furthermore, flexibility of the developed approach made it particularly suitable for reliability calculations, where specific failure modes are randomly generated. On this basis it was decided to include IFTR as subcontractor in then the BRITE project P1270. This initial collaboration proved very fruitful and lead to development of entirely new software suite for deterministic and probabilistic analysis of offshore structures. This first product was in a prototype format, aiming to demonstrate the feasibility of the new approach and also to provide convincing evidence about advantages of the system reliability approach. While these objectives have been achieved it took further five years and several industry sponsored project before the software reached a commercially acceptable standard. Now, the task ahead is to defend this new approach in the face of both scientific and commercial competition.

During the initial period of collaboration both organisation have learned the ways of operation and internal culture of the other partner, looking continuously for elements of common interest. The personal basis has been considerably widened, mainly through a programme of visits in WSA offices by Polish researchers. Three years ago WSA has opened an office in Warsaw which now maintains close contacts between the two organisations. These contacts have lead to many new initiatives undertaken on local and European basis. Several applications for KBN support has been made and recently the first contract has been awarded. Also a number of EC funded projects has been applied for and a COPERNICUS project has been won in 1995. All these initiatives are aiming to expand the area of collaboration while retaining the core of technological development. For example, the original approach for structural modification is now extended to deal with active structural control; methods for structural safety assessment of offshore structures are being adapted to bridge structures. The collaboration, which was originally concerned with R&D project is now also targeting more specific commercial applications, where particular technological development are undertaken on a contract basis.

Experiences from collaborative R&D projects

Good preparation of collaborative project is essential for creation of conditions facilitating achievement of scientific and commercial goals. The most important aspect, for the manager and the consortium partners alike, is the ability to clearly formulate the project objectives and to identify the interest of the project with that of the partners. Once this is done it is important that all partners are prepared to make compromises giving the priority to this overall objective. Taking into account potentially deep differences in working practices between partners initial selection and good communication in the preparation stage should be addressed very seriously. Particularly when conflict of interest exists between partners outside the project.

It is inevitable that there will be delays in adherence to the project work programme and the financial resources will be stretched. Good management, effective leadership and transparent share of responsibilities are thus essential.

Conclusions

A collaborative effort involving a research institution from Poland and a consultant from the UK has been described. Taking advantage of already established European R&D programmes (e.g. COPERNICUS) the two organisations realise meaningful technology transfer between academia and industry. The complimentary character of their respective activities is beneficial for both sides and creates an important base for further expansion of this activity. Building on this success the authors wish to encourage national government bodies to support more effectively multi-sectorial and multi-national cooperation.

References

[1] Kuklinski A. (1994): Transformation of Science. The experiences and prospects in Poland 1900 - 2000. Konstancin Conference.

[2] (1993): Realising our potential. A strategy for Science, Engineering and Technology. White Paper. London, UK.


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