Nowadays, when the term technology transfer (TT) is used, most people probably think of TT from universities and other research institutions to industry. Or at least, they probably think this way in the UK and other developed countries. Since the 1980s, national policies such as the Bayh-Dole Act in the USA, and the decision to allow UK universities to commercialise their own IP, have led to the proliferation of TT offices across the universities of North America and Europe.
Organisations such as PraxisAuril in the UK, ASTP-Proton in Europe, and AUTM in the USA, have helped to train a generation of specialist TT practitioners. The first generation is now reaching retirement and we have a second generation that hasn’t experienced the pioneering days of TT.
When IP Draughts qualified as a lawyer, just before the start of the developments mentioned above, the dominant meaning of TT was rather different. Most people probably thought of TT in relation to the policies of developing countries that sought to obtain technology from industrialised countries, with a view to improving the economic development of the former.
Back in the 1980s, there seemed to be a constant stream of articles in technology law journals about the TT policies of particular countries. For instance, it seemed that Brazil came out with a new government policy every few years, and most of these policies seemed deeply unattractive to technology owners in industrialised countries. If you licensed software to a Brazilian company, the terms of the licence had to be approved by a Brazilian government agency, you had to deposit the source code with them, and the source code would be made freely available after 5 years. IP Draughts recalls such a transaction where both parties ignored the local laws.
An illustration of this understood meaning was that the publishers of IP Draughts’ first book, now in its third edition (fourth out soon) and called Technology Transfer, thought this name was potentially unclear and misleading to readers in the mid-1990s. Instead, IP Draughts had to settle for the clumsy name Technology: The Law of Exploitation and Transfer.
IP Draughts wonders what has happened to this other meaning of TT. The general trend of international IP policy seems to have been towards a more pro-IP approach, supported by international treaties such as TRIPS. In specific sectors, there have been initiatives to support developing countries, such as EU Regulation 816/2006 on ‘compulsory licensing of patents relating to the manufacture of pharmaceutical products for export to countries with public health problems’.
We seem to hear less about the national TT policies of developing countries. IP Draughts speculates that these policies have been shown to be a failure, like some other economic theories that focus on state control of the market. But here he is sounding dangerously like a right-winger, which doesn’t sit easily with his status as a member of the liberal, metropolitan elite.