Academia-Industry Interface Improvement – Absorptive and Desorptive Capacities

Academia Industry Collaboration for innovation

Photo based on Petr Kratochvil under Public Domain License (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=72981&picture=hands-holding-jigsaw&large=1)

Introduction

We, the Innovation Capability Center, are sub-titling our activities with the term “Improving the Academia/Science-Industry Interface” or “Improving the Science-Society Interface”. As we at least are talking about two different stakeholders and an interface between them, it is interesting to understand the diverse dimensions of this task. Think about an optimized flow of knowledge from a knowledge creator to a knowledge recipient that should lead to Innovation.

Absorptive Capacity

Photo by George Hodan under Public Domain License (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=30522&picture=domino&large=1)

Photo by George Hodan under Public Domain License (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=30522&picture=domino&large=1)

One dimension is the absorptive capacity of e.g. a company receiving knowledge form an university within a regional knowledge transfer. According to wikipedia absorptive capacity has been defined as “a firm’s ability to recognize the value of new information, assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends“. In principle the responsibility and active part for improvement in this case is on the side of the company. In the context of the science-industry interface this could mean, that science is producing valuable new knowledge, and the better the absorptive capacity of the company gets, the commercial success of the company is increasing.  A provoking question in this context is:  “does this work for all kind of knowledge that is generated at the academic side of the Interface?“. In fact this question is very difficult to answer. On the long run several examples can be found how basic research results have become very relevant for commercialization within a period of several years or even decades. We personally don’t think that even the highest absorptive capacity will help to turn every scientific result into an economic success. There is no invariance of the “kind and quality” of a result to become an innovation. But, at least companies need the capability to understand the implication of new research results for their own innovation processes.

Desorptive Capacity

Photo by Daniele Pellati under Public Domain License (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=47378&picture=e-mc2&large=1)

Photo by Daniele Pellati under Public Domain License (http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=47378&picture=e-mc2&large=1)

Let’s think about the second dimension, with the responsibility and active part in improving the interface is on the side of academia. It has to be something opposite to the “absorptive capacity” maybe a “desorptive capacity”. And indeed in 2006, Lichtenthaler was defining the term desorptive capacity “which refers to a firm’s ability to identify technology transfer opportunities and to transfer technology to the recipient“. In our example the “firm” will be the university and its capability to produce results according to recognized acquirer needs and to hand over the results to them. This definition has two aspects. First

  • the capacity to understand technology transfer opportunities, including e.g.
    • the identification of suitable own research results,
    • adaptation of the own research to external opportunities,
    • an approach to analyze recipient needs etc.

and

  • the capability to handover results to the recipient including e.g.
    • form and quality of the released technology,
    • contractual issues with suitable agreements,
    • networks of potential recipients, investors, etc.

One may argue, that a higher desorptive capacity is increasingly violating the humboldtian model of the freedom of research.  This problem can arise when e.g. a research organization has no defined strategy on how much adaptation of the own research to external opportunities is needed for the operation of the organization. And in addition: to perform a better analysis of own research results for transfer, or to support the recipient to absorb the results more easily is not per se in conflict with the nature of the university! Instruments, like e.g. the ISO/IEC 15504 standard based model innoSPICE, can help to support research organizations to increase their “desorptive” capacity.

Conclusion

Collaboration between Academia and Industry shoulkd lead to Innovation

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The motivation to write this article is based on the observation, that absorptive capacity currently has become a buzzword. We think that this term is a very convenient one for academia, as changes are not requested from them in a first step. For sure there is a need to improve absorption of new knowledge on the side of the companies or society. But in our opinion it is a mistake to understand absorptive capacity decoupled from desorptive capacity. There should be a common interest from academia, industry and even society to improve both capacities in a good Balance.

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About Michael

Michael Boronowsky is Managing Director of the Innovation Capability Center at the Center for Computing Technologies, University of Bremen (Germany). After his Diploma in Electrical Engineering at University of Applied Science in Aachen, Michael became leading development engineer in a measurement device company. During and after his study he was responsible to coordinate research cooperation and to integrate research results into the development of innovative products. He went back to university and studied Computer Science in Nijmegen (Netherlands) and received a Master in Computer Science in 1995. Since this time he is working at the University of Bremen in different roles. After he had finished his PhD he became managing director of the TZI. Throughout his career he was interested to be an actor within the science-industry interface and he became an international expert in the field of knowledge- and technology transfer. He is part of the team that has initiated the ISO/IEC 15504 based model innoSPICE. His interest is to establish standards in knowledge intense institutions, to support generation of efficiency gains in the field of innovation and to help investors and research institutions to optimize public funds to achieve economic added value.

One thought on “Academia-Industry Interface Improvement – Absorptive and Desorptive Capacities

  1. Absorptive and desorptive terms are very interesting terminology, even to think about its both implication sounds challenging…i like it.

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