A Word on Tech Transfer

The phrase “tech transfer” has been in the air lately and I learned recently that it means something much more specific then I had assumed. Taken at face value it would seem to indicated building upon a technology in a new way, ie transferring use from one purpose to another and building on research across fields. It turns out that in fact the term describes the relationship of research, funding, and business development between sectors. A university’s Office of Technology Transfer “manages the commercialization of federally-funded university research,” and is akin to a “high-tech dating service”* between university research and industry. Applying for and managing

patents becomes a major part of this.

My current university, RPI, has an active Office of Technology Commercialization. Some of these patents can be seen here.  Dr. Lou Tornatzky, Chair and Professor of Industrial Technology at CalPoly was kind enough to send me collection of useful links on the subject of technology transfer and business development:

— The University of Florida is very active in this area and has a very well comprehensive website
— The MIT Enterprise Forum is tasked with building connections between business leaders and technolgists and conveniently for me has a New York chapter.
— The National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) advances the cause of business incubation and entrepreneurship.
— Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship Corner has a wealth of interesting videos, and of course the university also has an Office of Technology Licensing.

As far as my own research is concerned, Dr. Tornatzky expressed the opinion that architecture is limiting in this area, particularly compared to other fields like biotech that understand tech tranfer much better. That issue is in fact part of the reason why RPI’s Center for Architecture, Science, and Ecology exists in the first place, and we will do our part to advance patents in technologies that lead to more sustainable building design on a broad scale.

On a final, lighter note, I can’t help but chuckle at the logical extremes of what it would mean if “tech transfer” referred only to the using one technology for something else. The brilliant tagline for the Hobotech movement says it all,  “Steampunk is about making a coal-powered computer. Hobotech is about using an old laptop as a hammer.”


Technology Transfer at U.S. Universities, Richard G. Hamermesh, Josh Lerner, David Kiron, Harvard Business School, 2007.

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About Daniela

Daniela Morell holds a Masters in Architectural Science with a concentration in Built Ecologies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Center for Architecture Science and Ecology in New York City. Her writing, research, and design work is guided by a value system for sustainability that includes both the responsible use of energy and material resources, as well as the social need for design to inspire more ecologically balanced living.
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