Several developed countries, including the UK, have recognised that knowledge and innovation will become essential drivers of economic growth, enabling them to remain competitive in an increasingly global marketplace. This is particularly relevant for the UK’s chemistry-using industries, where successful innovation is now recognised as being essential for its long-term survival and growth.
Universities can be a major source of new ideas, but successful innovation can only occur if these ideas are transferred effectively into the commercial arena. The process by which innovative ideas from universities are converted into successful commercial ventures is known as technology transfer.
In 1987, universities were given ownership of any intellectual property that they created from government-funded projects. Since then, universities have developed support structures for technology transfer that aim to identify, protect and exploit their intellectual property. Government has also provided funding streams, such as the Higher Education Innovation Fund, to encourage these activities. As a result, there are a growing number of staff posts within universities and intermediary organisations targeted specifically at promoting and supporting knowledge transfer.
The major mechanisms for technology transfer involve either forging collaborations with external companies or the formation of new 'spin-out' companies. For either route, an essential step is to secure strong intellectual property rights and facilitate their transfer to the company via appropriate licensing or assignment strategies.
An understanding of the key processes involved in technology transfer is important for chemists working in both academia and industry and there are now many examples where effective technology transfer has led to major commercial success. The event 'What a chemist needs to know about technology transfer' introduced and explored the concepts of technology transfer in the context of chemistry and the chemical-using industries. It took place in the School of Chemistry, University of Nottingham on Thursday, 9 July 2009 (conference papers).