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Technology Transfer

The Invaluable Tool of Economic Growth

Introduction Technology transfer is not easy to define.  There have been several attempts to do  so and each definition is liable to many  critiques. However, one can retain that of  the United Nations Conference on Trade  and Development (UNCTAD) which describes technology transfer as « the flow  of know-how, experience and equipment  amongst different stakeholders such as  governments, private sector entities, financial  institutions,  NGOs  and  research  institutions ». Another agency of the UN,  the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) defined it as « the transfer of  new technologies from universities and  research institutions to parties capable  of commercialisation ». This is the definition that is adopted in this paper. Yet, it  is worthy to note from the UNCTAD that  « technology » in « technology transfer  » has a broad meaning, as it is referred  to as being « know-how, experience and  equipment » embodying at the same time  tangible and intangible assets. Technology  encompasses therefore technologies in the  strict sense, skills, knowledge, manufacturing methods, manufacturing samples such  as prototypes, demonstrators, or sample  products, tools and facilities.  Technology transfer is the necessary process  by which innovation from university can  trigger industrial development by way of  boosting productivity and, hence, economic  growth. International technology transfer  between developed countries and less developed countries has yielded virtually no  results. However, it is a fact that industrialised  countries have only been able to reach that  level by transfering technology (innovation)  from public or private research to industry.  This is the one of the main explanations of  the fact that though South Korea was at  the same developmental stage as Ghana  in the 1970s, it has now attained a state  of development which is far beyond that  of Ghana.  Undoubtedly,  knowledge  economy  is  the fuel of industrialisation and economic growth. However, for it to generate  any benefits, there must be some transfer  from the place where knowledge is generated (the university) to where it may  be transformed into something tangible  usable and useful to society in general and  the production sector in particular. If the  Cameroonian economy is to become an  emerging country by 2035, it must move  from an economy of consumption to an  economy  that  transforms  raw  material  as  well  as  ideas  into  refined  products.  This may only be possible if knowledge  gained through research (either public or  private) is shared with industry. For this  to happen, enough sensitisation must be  done and sufficient information needs to  be imparted on the issue. Stakeholders’  awareness must be raised to thhe fact that  productivity may only be boosted through  technology transfer. These stakeholders  include researchers (students and lecturers)  but also industry tycoons, promoters of  small  and  medium  size  enterprises,  decision makers and the general public. It  is thus necessary to determine how and  to what extent technology transfer is an  invaluable tool for economic growth but  also the technology transfer framework  of present day Cameroon.  1. Technology transfer as a tool for  economic growth  There are various formal and informal ways  through which technology may be transferred and the process certainly results  in significant benefits for any economy.  1.1. Forms of technology transfer  Whether the technology has resulted  from public research in universities and  research centres or from private research  in companies’s Research and Development  (R & D) departments, there are several  ways  in  which  it  may  be  transferred  to  industry. These include both formal and  informal ways.  Formal technology transfer includes training  and education by universities, the hiring  of graduates and university researchers,  collaborative research between universities  and  companies’  R&D  departments,  technology services and consultancy from  academia for teh benefit of industry, patenting, licensing and any other form of  commercialisation of universities’ protected  intellectual property as well as spin-offs  run by universities themselves. Informal technology transfer includes any  informal exchange, that is, any exchange  which is not subject to a contract but most  often, researchers’ publications (in scientific  journals and other reviews) and papers  presentation  in  conferences,  seminars  and colloquia.  1.2. Requirements and Benefits of  Technology Transfer  For technology transfer to take place and  deliver the expected benefits, there must  be a clear policy. Designing and adopting  policy is the role of government through  policy documents, laws, regulations and  any other instruments. Political will is an  essential but not the unique requirement  for technology transfer, universities must  be willing to disseminate their knowledge  and industry must be ready to absorb that  knowledge in the many existing ways and  put it into practice. Then, universities and  industry must not be stopped by a lack of  clear governmental policy or appropriate  instruments that promote technology transfer as they can yield huge benefits in the  process whether or not a clear national  legal framework exists as there is no law  that prohibits it. Instead there are several pieces of legislation that provide for  technology transfer. In fact, people and  passion are taken to be the main ingredients  for technology transfer success. Besides,  knowledge may only be generated through  sound and reliable research. This means  that universities must put mechanisms in  place that promote research best practices  thereby creating a conducive environment  for innovation. If universities fail to innovate,  then, there will be no knowledge to share.  Technology transfer may not only happen  and universities must equip themselves with  Technology Transfer Offices that will help  draft sound policy and contract templates,  do all the paper work (contracts and files  to protect any intellectual property) but  also train all researchers on technology  transfer related issues so as to make sure  there is always a win-win contract whereby universities, researchers and industry  benefit. Well skilled personnel in management, accountancy, economics, intellectual  property and basic contract law must be  hired to perform these duties. Universities  must therefore adopt sound strategies to  manage research and research results determining teh best ways to protect and  commercialise them.  Technology transfer offers many benefits  to the various stakeholders. For industry,  and mainly local small and medium size  enterprises, knowledge from universities  may help in reducing production costs and  increase revenue with new and more efficient  operating methods. Technology transfer  helps companies increase their technical  capabilities and access management and  marketing expertise as well as new sources  of capital. Use of transferred technology  warrants access to larger markets whether  local or international and, consequently, to  new distribution channels. All of this helps  companies acquire and retain competitive  advantage for their growth and that of  the country.  For universities, technology transfer helps  strengthening and establishing research  conventions with industry in order to fund  research and harness revenue to finance  other activities within the university. Patenting, licensing and other commercialisation of generated intellectual property  (knowledge) helps universities establish  their leading role or signaling their expertise  in any given field. Technology transfer in  the form of graduates and reserach staff  recruitment in companies benefits universities in their graduates’ employability skills  as well as giving teaching staff more practical knowledge and experience that will  result in better programme delivery and  professionalisation. Technology transfer  allows universities to disseminate and impart knowledge generated more effectively  which is their primary duty. The main benefit  being diversification of sources of income  and extra income funding.  For government, technology transfer helps in  increasing productivity and competitiveness  at both national and international levels  and, hence, boost economic growth.  2. Technology Transfer in the  Cameroonian context  As already noted, for technology transfer  to occur, there must be a conducive environment. This is what is lacking in most  developing countries including Cameroon.  This notwithstanding, disparate and various  policy and legal instruments, though not  specifically devoted to technology transfer, exist that may help foster it. Besides,  there are many other challenges that may  hinder the process.  2.1. Legal and regulatory Landscape Cameroon lacks a clear policy on technology  transfer or at least effective implementation  mechanisms of some of the measures that  may be used to carry it out. Some of these  measures are contained in various laws  including  the  2002  Investment  Charter,  the 2013 Law on Incentives for Investment  and Public Private Partnerships law and  regulations.  Specifically, there have been some attempts  to make technology transfer formal and  regular between universities and industry  in Cameroon. One of such attempts is evidenced by a Charter that was signed by the  Ministry of Higher Education andGroupement  Interpatronal du Cameroun (GICAM), one of  the most influential Cameroonian industry  grouping in 2011. Its full implementation is  still hindered by the fact that incentives that  may promote technology transfer between  university and industry have not been well  developed. There, however, exist some  conventions between public universities  and private intsitutes of higher education  and industry to foster technology transfer  through collaborative curricula drafting  to ensure degree holders’ employability  as well as organising internships and field  visits to companies. Yet, specific policy and  legal instruments on technology transfer  need to be adopted.  2.2. Challenges and Way Forward for  Technology Transfer in Cameroon There are two main challenges that prevent  proper technology transfer in Cameroon.  The first is the lack of a specific policy and  regulatory framework. The 2011 Charter  has not gained force of law and incentives  that may foster technology transfer are not  yet clearly defined. There is need for clear  technology transfer policy at teh national  andn institutional levels. Specific laws and  other regulatory instruments need to be  enacted in order to tackle all the issues  pertaining to technology transfer from  universities to industry. The second main challenge is that of  knowledge  and  mastery  of  the  technology transfer process and benefits by all  stakeholders. Ignorance is a serious drawback  to technology transfer. Therefore, there  must be clear understanding on the part  of research institutions, researchers and  industry on what technology transfer is  all about, the benefits it may bring to the  parties involved and to society as a whole.  On the latter, it suffices to note that technology transfer boosts productivity and,  therefore, leverages national economy for  the benefit of the whole country.  Other challenges include, lack of human  capital and lack of prior experience with  university – industry partnerships to build  on and benchmark best practices.  It is only when there is such understanding  of technology transfer that there will be a  clear policy and legal framework and that,  even without it, technology transfer may be  carried out to leverage economic growth  in Cameroon. 

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