- In this Issue
The subject of technology transfer or technological diffusion (the terms are largely interchangeable) is not far from the headlines in this world where technology and innovation are vital considerations. As the contents of this issue are prepared for production in January 2007, media accounts have spotlighted several stories that touch upon the subject matter of Comparative Technology Transfer and Society (CTTS). For example, after extensive debate and maneuvering, the United Nations imposed sanctions against Iran in response to that nation's continuing pursuit of uranium-enrichment technology (Cooper & Weisman, 2007). At about the same time, the Chinese government announced that it had levied a fine of (US)$140,000 against the web portal <Sohu.com> for distributing Hollywood movies online without permission (Web Portal Fined for Movie Piracy, 2006). And in another story with a Chinese connection, U.S. government officials announced that they would approve plans for Westinghouse to sell four nuclear power plants to China. The deal included an agreement to transfer expertise designed to bolster China's competence in nuclear reactors, as well as hardware for the four plants (Bradsher, 2006). The subjects of these stories were different, but at their cores each was about controlling the movement of technology across institutional lines. And whether the issue involved a desire to restrict or to encourage the movement of new technologies, the news stories make clear that achieving the desired outcomes is tricky, complicated, and uncertain. Echoes of this point are found in each of the three articles contained in this issue of CTTS.
The opening article by Mila Davids and Geert Verbong, Absorptive Capacity in Solid-State Technology and International Knowledge Transfer: The Case of Philips, examines the efforts of a leading European electronics corporation to harness ideas from outside the corporation during its efforts to innovate and develop new products. The capacity to innovate has become, as the authors note, central to the growth and development of many modern business corporations in fields such as electronics. And the ability to acquire and assimilate ideas and technology from outside are a pivotal part of that process. The authors (historians of technology from the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands) focus on the concept of absorptive capacity, a term that signifies the crucial role of outside information in the innovative capabilities of a firm. Philips offers a good case for examining technology transfer related to innovation. The firm has become a player in the electronics field, but not without overcoming significant challenges, including the task of rebuilding its facilities, its strategies, and its knowledge base after World War II. A key issue was catching up to the exciting yet daunting breakthroughs that grew from the U.S. military technologies launched during the 1940s and refined and exploited in the 1950s. The article provides the reader with a long view of the firm's efforts by tracking its approaches and strategies concerning the acquisition and utilization of external technology from the 1930s into the 1960s. It shows not only how the company took the initial steps of borrowing changes from the outside, but also that Philips's efforts and success in the transfer of knowledge and technology changed over time as its products, competitive environments, and its own internal capacity and approaches shifted.
The accompanying Notes from the Field by Gail Corbitt, chair of the Department of Accounting and Management Information Systems at California State University, Chico, offers a comparative view of firms and external technology with attention to Hewlett-Packard. She finds that the "not invented here" syndrome can be a significant factor in a corporation's absorptive capacity.
The second article, Between Globalization and Localization: The Case of Dutch Civil Engineering in Indonesia, 1800–1950, is by Wim Ravesteijn, a historian at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Ravesteijn also offers us a historical account of technology transfer, albeit on a broader canvas in terms of both space and time. His focus is on the [End Page ix] efforts to introduce water-related technologies from the Netherlands into the Dutch East Indies—today's Indonesia—during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His interest is the process of colonial technology transfer, and...