TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER AND KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER: THE ROLE OF INTERMEDIARIES
In the past, innovation was considered mainly a closed and protected system. In such a system, the results of investments and research were developed and remained within the company boundaries, often protected by intellectual property (Chesbrough, 2003). Gradually, the closed innovation paradigm has been abandoned by companies in favor of a new and open approach: the open innovation one. Open innovation (henceforth, OI) is a paradigm that states that businesses can and must resort to external ideas as well as internal ones, and access markets with internal and external pathways in order to advance in their technological skills (Chesbrough, 2003; Chesbrough et al., 2006). Following this paradigm, companies, regardless the industry they belong to, have expanded their boundaries within which innovation and development of new technologies are taking place. Consequently, OI is creating new practices and opportunities based in collaborative innovation approaches.
In such an open context, the transfer of technology as well as the transfer of knowledge have played a central role. Technology and knowledge transfer (hereafter, TT and KT respectively) is a process oriented to the interaction between two entities, during which an exchange of know-how, technical knowledge and / or technologies takes place with the aim of increasing the transferred knowledge/technology (Petroni et al., 2013). This process is an important tool for enhancing and disseminating the results of scientific research. Generally, two main actors are involved: the first acts as “source” of the knowledge/technology to be transferred, while the second acts “receiver” of the same knowledge/technology (Shohet & Prevetzer, 1996). A third actor that can be identified in the transfer process, acting as “facilitator” between the parties, is the intermediary or broker. The links between the parties involved generate not only industrial and cultural development, but also solid economic growth (Pollard, 2006).
This paper, starting from a review of the main studies found in the literature, is focused on the role of the intermediary. Specifically, the paper is structured in two main parts: as first, we introduce the general aspects related to TT and KT, and in particular the main actors involved and the different types of process investigated in the literature are described. As second, a diversity of types of intermediaries is recognised, both in general and referred to the different phases of innovation processes in particular.
Results suggest that they play an important role in contractual and financial/economic linkages in two main ways:
(i) by providing access to complementary assets necessary for internal development of technologies (in the closed phases of the innovation process), and
(ii) by performing a link function for firms sourcing external know-how (in the open phases of the innovation process).
Therefore, results stress the key role of technology intermediaries in order to increase the efficiency in TT and KT activities. Moreover, results suggest that the use of the Internet and other digital technology allows and facilitate the flow of technology and knowledge to be transferred easily and rapidly.