Comparative Technology Transfer and Society 1.2 (2003) 233-237
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Books at the Bookends of Technology Transfer
David N. Allen
Technology-based economic development is critical to the success of industrial nations. Governments, institutions, and corporations are accelerating creation and expansion of technology-based businesses, expediting the development of high-performance economic clusters, and strengthening research universities' ability to educate knowledge workers and commercialize technology. Knowledge of how technologies are devised and commercialized is episodic, difficult to translate from one context to another, and not easily explained to public officials. To many, the process of technology transfer is mysterious; at one level filled with intrigue and at another level obscured by the "invisible hand of the market."
Getting to Yes and Regional Advantage are fundamental for understanding the intrigue of technology transfer at the human level and the hidden process of innovation at the regional level. Essentially, these books exist at the bookends, the poles, of the technology transfer continuum. Getting to Yes addresses the individual transaction, and Regional Advantage addresses cultural and organizational forces that influence companies at the geographic regional level. Many domains exist between these levels—for example, the specific technology as adopted by a corporation—and one can spend a lifetime reading between these bookends. The context of this review will be from the domain of university technology transfer, a subset of the general topic and a domain critically important to the creation and development stages of technology.
Every United States research university is involved in inventive activity and technology transfer. In today's technology-led economy, university inventions, technological savvy, and a highly trained workforce are increasingly [End Page 233] relevant. For example, for two critically important emerging fields—biotechnology and nanotechnolgy—the building blocks of these industries are largely based on university inventions that originate from federally sponsored research.
The overall objective of university technology transfer is to build a positive, long-term, value-producing relationship with each licensee. Just as a company must make significant investments to commercialize technology, universities make significant investments in people, facilities, and infrastructure to support research. Similarly, just as companies expect to realize a return on their investments, universities expect to obtain a return on their investments. It typically takes many years, and unanticipated twists and turns, before early-stage university technology matures and is integrated by licensees into products or services. During these early, high-risk development years, the commitment of the licensee and university to the relationship is continually tested by technical and market conditions.
It is the context of university licensing that makes Getting to Yes such a powerful and enduring book. Fisher and Ury, negotiation and legal scholars working under the auspices of the Harvard negotiation project, have written an easy-to-read practical text that provides perspectives for conducting successful technology transfer negotiations. They champion an approach called the "principled negotiation" to overcome fog-of-war forces of complexity, uncertainty, and dodge inherent in high-stakes technology transfer. In the university intellectual property context, these forces seem multiplied given the lack of information pertaining to critical variables such as ascribed value, potential market size and share, patent viability, and product life cycle.
Among the many enduring lessons from this book, three key perspectives pertain to technology transfer negotiations. First, and foremost, avoid bargaining over positions and focus on interests. This distinction is explained by asking what you want to achieve globally as opposed to having to achieve prescribed results, which can become obsessive roadblocks. In the university licensing context, it is more important to create a positive relationship than to create the perfect license agreement. Given the early stage at which university technology is licensed, it is not uncommon to renegotiate and restate the license every 18 months to a few years until a time when the product and the market become more certain and stable.
The second key perspective concerns the frequent necessity to solve for the other side the problem(s) motivating its participation in the negotiation. Research environments at universities are appreciably different from corporate R&D environments. As...