Friday, February 8, 2008

Technology Transfer & Spin-Offs From Military R&D

Have the various military activities at Wright-Patterson resulted in any technology transfer or spin-offs benefiting the local economy?

Technology Transfer, T2 for short, became a national issue in the early 1980s, with the first Federal legislation coming in the early1980s. The idea was to improve US economic competitiveness by transferring military technology to the private sector.

The first technology transfer office at Wright-Patterson was set up around this time.

In 1990 a New York Times article addressed the issue, specifically writing about the Dayton/W-P relationship, discussing the establishment of a new T2 office:

An industrial consortium is being formed here to turn unclassified military research breakthroughs developed at Wright-Patterson into new commercial products. The consortium is the Ohio Advanced Technology Center.

The center's officials are already in place, with offices in a research park next to the base, just outside Dayton. They will soon hire additional staff and start setting goals for specific projects. Financing for the center has come from several private and public sources.

Other efforts at T2 followed during the 1990s.

So it’s been 18 years, actually 25 if one counts the early efforts in the 1980s.

Is there progress? Has T2 efforts helped job creation in Dayton and has it spurred new business formation? Has the impact been significant? Can this be measured?

There isn’t much independent review available online on this, surprisingly enough.

An abstract of an article entitled “Technology Transfer and Regional Economic Growth Issues”, published in the International Journal of Technology Transfer in 2005, but based on surveys done in the late 1980s and early 1990s hints that there is an issue with T2 here in Dayton:.

In 1987, 497 government laboratory employees were surveyed about their views of the technology transfer process, and 315 high-technology executives in the greater Dayton area were surveyed to gain the business point of view on potential technology transfer.

Evidence was also collected from 30 case studies pertaining to a three-year effort (1990-1994) by the Dayton Technology Transfer Group to stimulate technology transfer from Wright Patterson. These examples show that technology transfer from governmental laboratories remains problematic.

(the full article costs 30 euros to purchase, just the abstract is free)

A Carnegie-Mellon study entitled Universities and Industry Clusters, done in the early 00s and focused more on Wright State’s contribution, also mentions issues with T2.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is considered an important economic engine
leading to spin-off employment in aerospace, technology, and manufacturing. The
potential benefits have to date surpassed the actual benefits—although the number of
patents in the region is high, this has not resulted in the creation of many prominent startups.

(The footnotes source interviews conducted by Carnegie-Mellon researchers in Dayton in 2003).

Ironically, the most successful local spin off of Wright Patt R&D dates to the 1960s, predating the conscious T2 era. Lexis Nexis, now a major IT employer, started as a small defense contractor doing database work for the Air Force.

One hopes that the actvity at Wright-Patterson may lead to one or two more Lexis-Nexis's.


Anonymous said...

While there may not have beem many start-ups in the Dayton area, the article did not say there were none. We need Wright-Pat because the business climate in Ohio is not good, so we must rely on the government to keep us going until things turn around, if ever.

Tech transfer is benefitting someone.

Jefferey said...

No doubt that the base is needed, but I think the point of the two research papers I cited was that T2/commercialization is less than expected, that there are some bariers or issues that need to be removed to reap the benefits.

I find this issue really interesting as there is a lot of promise in T2, in concept at least.