Peter Lee--Transcending the Tacit Dimension: Patents, Relationships, and the Industrial Organization of Academic Technology Transfer
Please join the Center for Science and Innovation Studies for the second in our series of talks this quarter, with a lunchtime talk by Prof. Peter Lee of the UC Davis School of Law.
Please RSVP for Lunch: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/HHWTZW6
As a key driver of welfare-enhancing innovation and economic growth, university-industry technology transfer has attracted significant policy attention. Formal technology transfer, which encompasses patenting and licensing of university inventions, is often characterized as proceeding according to market principles. According to this dominant conception, patents facilitate the commodification of academic inventions, which universities then advertise and transfer to private firms in licensing markets. This talk challenges and refines this market-oriented view of technology transfer. Drawing from empirical studies, it shows that effective technology transfer often requires long-term personal relationships rather than discrete market exchanges. In particular, it explores the significant role of tacit knowledge in effectively exploiting patented academic inventions. Markets, patents, and licenses are ill-suited to transferring such tacit knowledge, leading licensees to seek direct relationships with academic inventors themselves.
Drawing on the theory of the firm, this Article then highlights the role of organizational integration in transferring patented technologies and associated tacit knowledge to private firms. Presenting a descriptive theory of university-industry technology transfer, it argues that the difficulties of conveying tacit knowledge encourage various forms of “integration” among faculty inventors, universities, and licensee firms. From consulting arrangements to seats on corporate boards, firms are directly engaging with, and sometimes absorbing, the academic human capital underlying patented technologies. Turning from the descriptive to the normative, the talk provides prescriptions for enhancing tacit knowledge transmission and university-industry technology transfer. It concludes by exploring the implications of tacit knowledge for patent theory and the organization of technological commercialization efforts.