Technology transfer

Dave Wilson looks at the world of technology transfer and shows you where to go if you want to re-use or repurpose existing technological developments in your own work.

‘A young man is embarrassed to question an older one’ Homer, The Odyssey.

In my former existence as the editor of a popular design magazine, I worked with a gentleman by the name of Ken Smith. A nice enough fellow, I suppose, he did have one really irritating habit. Whatever story I wrote or commissioned for the magazine, Ken would always comment under his breath that he had seen it all before. And because he was years older than I was, most of the time he wasn’t far off the mark.

If company A released a new microprocessor, for example, Ken would point to the to the work of Alan Turing, the founder of modern computer science. If company B brought out a new hydraulic system, Ken would discuss the work of UK inventor Joseph Bramah who patented the water hydraulic press. If company C announced a new high-performance engine, Ken would roll his eyes and refer back to the ‘four-stroke’ engine that was developed by the German outfit Otto and Langen in 1876.

After a while, it all became a bit tedious. Especially considering the fact that Ken was the Deputy Editor of the magazine and I was supposed to be The Editor. Somehow, the older man seemed intent on making me feel as if a role reversal had taken place!

Rather than try to browbeat him into submission, however, I deployed my extensive management skills to work around the problem. Instead of writing stories on ‘new technology’ that would be deemed to be 200 years old as soon as he read it, I decided to start penning pieces about the re-use or repositioning of existing technologies in new applications.

Needless to say, readers found these ‘technology transfer’ stories very interesting. For while all of them had design problems that needed to be solved, none of them wanted to spend time and money re-inventing the wheel if they didn’t have to.

Fortunately, with the advent of the Internet, now you don’t even have to wade through a whole bunch of trade journals to discover where to go to beg or borrow someone else’s technology and make it your own. Four web sites come to my mind where you can do just that.

If you are in Europe, one good place to visit is the Innovation Relay Centre (IRC) Gateway, a major European source for innovative technologies. You can market your own innovation there, or you can look for existing technologies that you can exploit.

And for something similar but with a US slant, take a look at The National Technology Transfer Center an outfit that helps companies identify commercially promising discoveries, market them to American industry, and build partnerships that turn inventions into products.

Lastly, of course, don’t forget either the US Patent and Trade Mark Office or the European Patent Office where you can perform a patent search using keywords to discover what your competitors or contemporaries have developed over the years.

So what would Ken Smith make of all this, I wonder? Fortunately, he retired over five years ago and isn’t around to ask. Perhaps that’s just as well. Because if he was, I can just see him questioning the rationale behind writing any ‘technology-transfer’ stories in a trade publication when the information already exists on Web sites like the one’s I mentioned earlier. So I’d have to come up with another ruse to keep him quiet. And I’ve clean run out of ideas.