Technology, R&D management
technology transfer, licensing, technology market
There is a widespread belief in the business community that firms can rely on the market for buying and selling technological opportunities. The argument is: with so much technology development going on in the world, 'there must be somebody somewhere who has the technology we need.' According to this belief, acquiring new technology just boils down to finding the supplier, possibly with the help of a specialized intermediary. Several large firms have indeed developed ambitious mechanisms for acquiring the needed technological know-how as they proceed to make and market a new product. We contend that this concept of the technology transfer process is erroneous, as it conflicts with actual practice. The very high transaction costs entailed leave considerable room for opportunistic behavior and are more likely to occur when the parties do not know each other. An effective way to reduce transaction costs, therefore, is to limit technology transfers to the firm's partners, i.e. organizations with which the firm has already interacted in the past. Our research provides evidence that successful technology transfers typically take place between suppliers and buyers who had business relationships before considering a technology agreement. In addition, we report findings that companies using intermediaries (technological opportunities catalogues, databases, fairs, etc.) have been disappointed in their attempts to find new technologies from unknown sources. Because of the high risk of opportunistic behavior, it is practically impossible to assess the value of a technology without knowing who sells it. Similarly, the technology transfer capabilities of a company are difficult to appraise without prior knowledge through business interaction. To a certain extent, it may be better to buy any technology from a partner that one knows well than to buy a supposedly good technology from a firm with which one has had no experience. To put it bluntly: the identity of the partner may actually matter more than the technology being traded! Consequently, the relevant framework for technology transfer is built on a 'network concept' rather than the 'market concept'. Firms wishing to acquire new technology should turn first to their network of trusted business partners, looking for available technological opportunities instead of trying to buy technology from unrelated organizations.
© 1994 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and British Academy of Management