Europe's technology transfer performance better than previously believed?

September 26, 2006

Brussels, 25 Sep 2006

Europe is better at commercialising the results of its publicly funded research than previously thought, according to a new study by researchers at the United Nations University (UNU) in the Netherlands.

The United States are often cited as outperforming Europe's technology transfers. Success is seen in the number of US patents, start-ups, as well as the licensing revenue earned by universities around the country. This has led some to believe that Europeans are less entrepreneurial than their American counterparts.

Until recently, a lack of comparable data made it difficult to determine the real situation. But now a study by Anthony Arundel and Cataline Bordoy from UNU-MERIT, a research and training centre of the UNU, have found that Europe does better than had been assumed, at least as far as formal technology transfer goes.

In fact, Europe outperforms the US for two out of three indicators used - licenses executed and start-ups. Europe trails the US in licence revenue as a share of research - but only just. In 2004, per million dollars invested in research, European public research institutes executed 20 per cent more licenses, established 40 per cent more start-up firms, and earned only 10 per cent less license revenue than US universities, according to the study.

Problems of comparability remain, and there is also a question of whether the figures accurately portray levels of commercialisation. 'A start-up can fail, a license may not lead to anything of value and even license revenue can be earned without the firm bringing an invention to the market or making a profit from it. Nevertheless, the results are intriguing and show that European academics might be far more entrepreneurial than commonly thought,' say the report's authors.

The report also notes that technology is transferred not only through formal relationships between research institutes and companies (contract research and licensing), but also through 'open science'. This concept refers to reading journal articles, attending academic conferences and informal contacts. 'Too much focus on indicators for formal technology transfer might lead policy makers to promote formal technology transfer at the expense of transfer through open science. That would be wrong,' reads the report. 'The European Paradox is probably the result of a poor performance in the system of open science, as Europe's performance in formal technology transfer from public research to firms is not at all bad. That would mean that policy makers would have to concentrate on improving Europe's performance in open science.'

The authors call for more indicators to measure the impact of open science on the commercialisation of public research, as well as changes to questionnaires on formal technology transfer, to make results fully comparable.

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