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University Technology Commercialization  

Kathleen R. Allen

For decades researchers have studied various aspects of the technology transfer and commercialization process in universities in hopes of discovering effective methods for enabling more research to leave the university as technologies that benefit society. However, this effort has fallen short, as only a very small percentage of applied research finds its way to the marketplace through licenses to large companies or to new ventures. Furthermore, the reasons for this failure have yet to be completely explained. In some respects, this appears to be an ontological problem. In their effort to understand the phenomenon of university commercialization, researchers tend to reduce the process into its component parts and study each part in isolation. The result is conclusions that ignore a host of variables that interact with the part being studied and frameworks that describe a linear process from invention to market rather than a complex system. To understand how individuals in the technology commercialization system make strategic choices around outcomes, studies have been successful in identifying some units of analysis (the tech transfer office, the laboratory, the investment community, the entrepreneurship community); but they have been less effective at integrating the commercialization process, contexts, behaviors, and potential outcomes to explain the forces and reciprocal interactions that might alter those outcomes. The technology commercialization process that leads to new technology products and entrepreneurial ventures needs to be viewed as a complex adaptive system that operates under conditions of risk and uncertainty with nonlinear inputs and outputs such that the system is in a constant state of change and reorganization. There is no overall project manager managing tasks and relationships; therefore, the individuals in the system act independently and codependently. No single individual is aware of what is going on in any other part of the system at any point in time, and each individual has a different agenda with different metrics on which their performance is judged. What this means is that a small number of decision makers in the university commercialization system can have a disproportionate impact on the effectiveness and success of the entire system and its research outcomes. Critics of reductionist research propose that understanding complex adaptive systems, such as university technology commercialization, requires a different mode of thinking—systems thinking—which looks at the interrelationships and dependencies among all the parts of the system. Combined with real options reasoning, which enables resilience in the system to mitigate uncertainty and improve decision-making, it may hold the key to better understanding the complexity of the university technology commercialization process and why it has not been as effective as it could be.


The Application of Real Option Approach in International Business Research  

Tailan Chi and Yan Huang

The real option theory (ROT), a theory on investment decision making under uncertainty, has been applied to analyzing a broad range of questions in international business (IB). In the face of uncertainty, any discretion that the managers of a multinational enterprise (MNE) have over the timing, scale, speed, and sequence of investing or using the firm’s resources, in the forms of physical or intellectual capital or managerial time and effort, can be a real option. Such options confer upon the managers the right, but not the obligation, to exploit the upside potential while limiting the downside risk. Uncertainty, irreversibility, and absence of immediate and complete preemption are three necessary conditions for a real option to create value. Uncertainty offers opportunities to gather more information in the future, and such information can help managers make better decisions or alter prior decisions for improvement. Irreversibility is defined as the proportion of the investment committed to a project that cannot be recouped if the project is abandoned. Preemption refers to the revocation of the decision-making discretion that nullifies the option. It is possible to distinguish seven types of real options that have been examined in IB studies: (a) option to defer, (b) option to abandon/exit, (c) option to exchange, (d) option to grow/scale up, (e) option to contract/scale down, (f) option to switch, and (g) compound options. These types of options are found to influence a firm’s international market-entry strategies (e.g., location, timing, scale, speed, and mode) and the configuration and organization of the firm’s geographically dispersed production network. ROT has also been integrated with other economic theories, such as transaction cost economics and resource-based view, to better understand these decisions. Although ROT assumes a strong form of rationality on the part of the decision maker, it is also possible to incorporate cognitive or cultural biases into the theory and give the theory’s analysis greater realism. ROT represents a theoretical approach that can be integrated with various economic and noneconomic theories. More work in such theoretical integration can potentially help researchers gain deeper or more complete understandings of IB questions. Extant studies in IB typically analyze only a single type of option in isolation. But the global production network of a MNE typically has a portfolio of different types of options embedded, and the different types of options inevitably interact. The study of interactions among two or more types of options under different sources of uncertainty is likely to yield new insights on the strategy and organization of the MNE.