How innovative companies thrive on technology transfer
While the natural course of enterprise leads to focus and specialise on specific services and products, the disruptive nature of innovation calls for an open-minded entrepreneurial approach that can swiftly capitalise on new opportunities and technology to maximise the market footprint. Indeed, this how a once niche market like insurance telematics has blossomed and currently has a market outlook forecast at 100 million UBI policies expected to be sold worldwide by 2020.
Intellectual property, which refers to creations of the intellect with a monopoly protected by law, is at the core of every modern economy. Intellectual property rights include trademarks, copyrights, patents, industrial design rights and, in some sectors, trade secrets. Traditionally, universities have been the main drivers for new inventions and ground-breaking research.
Technology transfer, which plays a critical role in transferring this knowledge to the market in order to create products and services that improve our lives, may be defined as the process of transferring or disseminating knowledge from its point of creation to a larger usage basin. However, technology transfer is not just about reaping ideas from universities and research centres; in fact, knowledge can also be transferred between different sectors in the same company and amongst different companies, too. If technology transfer is absorbed from external sources, as in the latter case, this is often referred to as “open innovation.”
Open innovation extends well beyond traditional proprietary patents and conventional contractual arrangements for collaborative value creation. Indeed, it embraces new forms of knowledge exchange which are based on informal, non-contractual, flexible and often short-term relationships.
Technology transfer pursued through open innovation differs from traditional cooperative arrangements (such as contract research, research and development partnerships and networks) because it uses different tools to attract relevant knowledge such as crowdsourcing. Open innovation processes are fuelled by customers, suppliers, competitors; the scientific system of university labs and research institutions; public authorities such as patent agents and public funding agencies; and technology consultants, media, and conference organizers.
In a nutshell, technology transfer may be considered synonymous with open innovation. It is cooperative; the opposite of closed innovation in which companies only use ideas generated internally. Indeed, this type of knowledge, which is produced via corporate research labs and closely managed networks of vertically integrated partners, is generally highly protected.
In its outward aperture, open innovation embraces crowdsourcing at large (including co-creation challenges and contests, and a range of co-development opportunities) as well as traditional scouting activities for supplies, talents, patents, technology, partners and start-ups. Indeed, the two often overlap as scouting now often employs on-line crowdsourcing platforms to launch calls or search for new services and products.
Moreover, technology transfer – or at least its optimal application – is not only about technology. Scouting activities may identify invaluable technology, but efficient business models must be in place and correctly managed to incorporate new knowledge into a company and make it profitable. It requires a corporate culture that thrives on the injection of new ideas, products and services.
In fact, innovation is synonymous with disruption and companies must be sufficiently flexible, dynamic and far-sighted to adopt new technology that will set new standards for a market sector.
And that’s exactly what happened in 2002, when Fabio Sbianchi conceived and founded Octo Telematics as a pioneering insurance telematics provider for the motor industry. In time, that niche market has adopted a wide range of solutions and added value services to become a prominent sector of today’s insurance industry.