Technology Transfer

The Invaluable Tool of Economic Growth

Technology transfer is not easy to define. There have been several attempts to do so and each definition is liable to many critiques. However, one can retain that of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) which describes technology transfer as « the flow of know-how, experience and equipment amongst different stakeholders such as governments, private sector entities, financial institutions, NGOs and research institutions ». Another agency of the UN, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) defined it as « the transfer of new technologies from universities and research institutions to parties capable of commercialisation ». This is the definition that is adopted in this paper. Yet, it is worthy to note from the UNCTAD that « technology » in « technology transfer » has a broad meaning, as it is referred to as being « know-how, experience and equipment » embodying at the same time tangible and intangible assets. Technology encompasses therefore technologies in the strict sense, skills, knowledge, manufacturing methods, manufacturing samples such as prototypes, demonstrators, or sample products, tools and facilities. Technology transfer is the necessary process by which innovation from university can trigger industrial development by way of boosting productivity and, hence, economic growth. International technology transfer between developed countries and less developed countries has yielded virtually no results. However, it is a fact that industrialised countries have only been able to reach that level by transfering technology (innovation) from public or private research to industry. This is the one of the main explanations of the fact that though South Korea was at the same developmental stage as Ghana in the 1970s, it has now attained a state of development which is far beyond that of Ghana. Undoubtedly, knowledge economy is the fuel of industrialisation and economic growth. However, for it to generate any benefits, there must be some transfer from the place where knowledge is generated (the university) to where it may be transformed into something tangible usable and useful to society in general and the production sector in particular. If the Cameroonian economy is to become an emerging country by 2035, it must move from an economy of consumption to an economy that transforms raw material as well as ideas into refined products. This may only be possible if knowledge gained through research (either public or private) is shared with industry. For this to happen, enough sensitisation must be done and sufficient information needs to be imparted on the issue. Stakeholders’ awareness must be raised to thhe fact that productivity may only be boosted through technology transfer. These stakeholders include researchers (students and lecturers) but also industry tycoons, promoters of small and medium size enterprises, decision makers and the general public. It is thus necessary to determine how and to what extent technology transfer is an invaluable tool for economic growth but also the technology transfer framework of present day Cameroon. 1. Technology transfer as a tool for economic growth There are various formal and informal ways through which technology may be transferred and the process certainly results in significant benefits for any economy. 1.1. Forms of technology transfer Whether the technology has resulted from public research in universities and research centres or from private research in companies’s Research and Development (R & D) departments, there are several ways in which it may be transferred to industry. These include both formal and informal ways. Formal technology transfer includes training and education by universities, the hiring of graduates and university researchers, collaborative research between universities and companies’ R&D departments, technology services and consultancy from academia for teh benefit of industry, patenting, licensing and any other form of commercialisation of universities’ protected intellectual property as well as spin-offs run by universities themselves. Informal technology transfer includes any informal exchange, that is, any exchange which is not subject to a contract but most often, researchers’ publications (in scientific journals and other reviews) and papers presentation in conferences, seminars and colloquia. 1.2. Requirements and Benefits of Technology Transfer For technology transfer to take place and deliver the expected benefits, there must be a clear policy. Designing and adopting policy is the role of government through policy documents, laws, regulations and any other instruments. Political will is an essential but not the unique requirement for technology transfer, universities must be willing to disseminate their knowledge and industry must be ready to absorb that knowledge in the many existing ways and put it into practice. Then, universities and industry must not be stopped by a lack of clear governmental policy or appropriate instruments that promote technology transfer as they can yield huge benefits in the process whether or not a clear national legal framework exists as there is no law that prohibits it. Instead there are several pieces of legislation that provide for technology transfer. In fact, people and passion are taken to be the main ingredients for technology transfer success. Besides, knowledge may only be generated through sound and reliable research. This means that universities must put mechanisms in place that promote research best practices thereby creating a conducive environment for innovation. If universities fail to innovate, then, there will be no knowledge to share. Technology transfer may not only happen and universities must equip themselves with Technology Transfer Offices that will help draft sound policy and contract templates, do all the paper work (contracts and files to protect any intellectual property) but also train all researchers on technology transfer related issues so as to make sure there is always a win-win contract whereby universities, researchers and industry benefit. Well skilled personnel in management, accountancy, economics, intellectual property and basic contract law must be hired to perform these duties. Universities must therefore adopt sound strategies to manage research and research results determining teh best ways to protect and commercialise them. Technology transfer offers many benefits to the various stakeholders. For industry, and mainly local small and medium size enterprises, knowledge from universities may help in reducing production costs and increase revenue with new and more efficient operating methods. Technology transfer helps companies increase their technical capabilities and access management and marketing expertise as well as new sources of capital. Use of transferred technology warrants access to larger markets whether local or international and, consequently, to new distribution channels. All of this helps companies acquire and retain competitive advantage for their growth and that of the country. For universities, technology transfer helps strengthening and establishing research conventions with industry in order to fund research and harness revenue to finance other activities within the university. Patenting, licensing and other commercialisation of generated intellectual property (knowledge) helps universities establish their leading role or signaling their expertise in any given field. Technology transfer in the form of graduates and reserach staff recruitment in companies benefits universities in their graduates’ employability skills as well as giving teaching staff more practical knowledge and experience that will result in better programme delivery and professionalisation. Technology transfer allows universities to disseminate and impart knowledge generated more effectively which is their primary duty. The main benefit being diversification of sources of income and extra income funding. For government, technology transfer helps in increasing productivity and competitiveness at both national and international levels and, hence, boost economic growth. 2. Technology Transfer in the Cameroonian context As already noted, for technology transfer to occur, there must be a conducive environment. This is what is lacking in most developing countries including Cameroon. This notwithstanding, disparate and various policy and legal instruments, though not specifically devoted to technology transfer, exist that may help foster it. Besides, there are many other challenges that may hinder the process. 2.1. Legal and regulatory Landscape Cameroon lacks a clear policy on technology transfer or at least effective implementation mechanisms of some of the measures that may be used to carry it out. Some of these measures are contained in various laws including the 2002 Investment Charter, the 2013 Law on Incentives for Investment and Public Private Partnerships law and regulations. Specifically, there have been some attempts to make technology transfer formal and regular between universities and industry in Cameroon. One of such attempts is evidenced by a Charter that was signed by the Ministry of Higher Education andGroupement Interpatronal du Cameroun (GICAM), one of the most influential Cameroonian industry grouping in 2011. Its full implementation is still hindered by the fact that incentives that may promote technology transfer between university and industry have not been well developed. There, however, exist some conventions between public universities and private intsitutes of higher education and industry to foster technology transfer through collaborative curricula drafting to ensure degree holders’ employability as well as organising internships and field visits to companies. Yet, specific policy and legal instruments on technology transfer need to be adopted. 2.2. Challenges and Way Forward for Technology Transfer in Cameroon There are two main challenges that prevent proper technology transfer in Cameroon. The first is the lack of a specific policy and regulatory framework. The 2011 Charter has not gained force of law and incentives that may foster technology transfer are not yet clearly defined. There is need for clear technology transfer policy at teh national andn institutional levels. Specific laws and other regulatory instruments need to be enacted in order to tackle all the issues pertaining to technology transfer from universities to industry. The second main challenge is that of knowledge and mastery of the technology transfer process and benefits by all stakeholders. Ignorance is a serious drawback to technology transfer. Therefore, there must be clear understanding on the part of research institutions, researchers and industry on what technology transfer is all about, the benefits it may bring to the parties involved and to society as a whole. On the latter, it suffices to note that technology transfer boosts productivity and, therefore, leverages national economy for the benefit of the whole country. Other challenges include, lack of human capital and lack of prior experience with university – industry partnerships to build on and benchmark best practices. It is only when there is such understanding of technology transfer that there will be a clear policy and legal framework and that, even without it, technology transfer may be carried out to leverage economic growth in Cameroon.

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