One reason it is possible to assess university technology-transfer programs in the United States, Dr. Stevens said, is that schools are extremely transparent. AUTM has abundant data going back to at least 1991. “We bear our souls,” he said. “Unlike some countries, like the UK, each individual institution reveals its performance on technology transfer.” One can learn how many licenses each university issued and the income it earned, for example. “You cannot go see what the University of Oxford did.”
Dr. Stevens explained that AUTM, an association of university technology-transfer managers, operates “at the cultural interface between the not-for-profit educational world of universities and the for-profit world of companies that take our technologies and develop them.” He joked that the technology-transfer experience reminds him of the song-writer Tom Lehrer in the 1950s, “who quite elegantly talked about sliding down the razor blade of life.”55
To illustrate how little has really changed in the debate over U.S. competitiveness over the decades, Dr. Stevens displayed a cover story from BusinessWeek magazine published in April 1992 titled “Industrial Policy: Is It the Answer?“56 The cover language said: “The very phrase rattles the teeth. It implies bureaucracy. It suggests government will pick winners and losers. If done badly, it will certainly hurt America. With the Cold War over, and the global economy taking shape, America needs to shore up its competitiveness.” It was a “grim call to arms,” Dr. Stevens noted. “But not something that actually happened.”
Just six months later, BusinessWeek published another cover story called “Hot Spots: America’s New Growth Regions.”57 He noted that many of the so-called “hot spots” on BusinessWeek’s map had names like “ceramics corridor” in New York and “laser lane” in Florida. A large map of hot spots inside the magazine did not include Boston’s Route 128, Silicon Valley, or North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. This article, Mr. Stevens observed, proved to be remarkably prescient. A table in the article highlighted what were regarded at the time as some of the key ingredients of a high-tech cluster. They included:
• A major research university.
• Quality of life.
• Building on local industry.
• Cooperation between local universities, business, and government.
• Technology transfer from the university.
• Funding sources—state, venture capital, angels, and incubators.
55 From “Bright College Days” that appeared on the 1958 album “An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer.” Lyrics can be founded on Wikilyrics.com at <http://wikilyrics.net/song/892258/Tom-Lehrer—Bright-College-Days-Lyrics>.
56 BusinessWeek, “Industrial Policy,” April 4, 1992, pp. 70-77.
57 Kevin Kelly, “Hot Spots,” BusinessWeek, October 19, 1992.