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Convergent Technology The Role of Engineering Education. Kenneth J. McLeod, Ph.D. Department of Bioengineering. Invention and Innovation. 1970s Government retained patents on technology derived from federal funding NASA, for example, owned over 31,000 patents by late 70s

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Convergent technology the role of engineering education

Convergent TechnologyThe Role of Engineering Education

Kenneth J. McLeod, Ph.D.

Department of Bioengineering

Invention and innovation
Invention and Innovation

  • 1970s

    • Government retained patents on technology derived from federal funding

    • NASA, for example, owned over 31,000 patents by late 70s

      • Had licensed back 2100 to developers of technology (<500 were commercialized)

      • Licensed ~350 to new companies

    • Approximate licensing rate of - 8%

    • Approximate commercialization rate - 2%

Bayh dole act
Bayh-Dole Act

  • 1980

    • Bayh-Dole Act allowed institutions to own technology developed with Federal dollars

    • By 2000, universities were filing over 8000 patents per year

    • By 2004, universities had patent portfolios with > 100,000 patents

    • Outstanding licenses ~4000 (AUTM)

    • New companies formed ~2300

  • Current licensing rate: ~ 4%

  • Current commercialization rate: ~2%

  • Average University income/license <$10K/yr


  • Invention rate is not the barrier to commercialization

  • Patent ownership is not the barrier to commercialization

  • Financing unlikely to be the barrier as venture capitalists thrived in 1990s

  • Primary hurdle:

    • Lack of entrepreneurs

    • Individuals who know how to innovate


  • What is it?

    • It is not invention – it is not a technical process

    • Innovation is an economic term: It is, The endowment of a resource with new capabilities, creating economic value.

  • How does it work?

    • 1. Identify an economic opportunity.

    • 2. Apply extant technology in a new way to take advantage of the opportunity, resulting in economic benefit to the community.

  • Some innovation (disruptive) relies on new technology, but most is based on new applications of established technologies.

Classic innovations i
Classic Innovations I

  • Fulton’s folly – 1807

  • What Fulton didn’t to:

    • Did not invent the steamboat

      • Fitch (1790) ran a steamboat on the Delaware

    • Did not invent a new type of steam engine

      • Fulton used imported low pressure steam engine Evans built a high pressure steamboat in 1803

    • Did not invent sidewheel boat design

      • “Borrowed” it from a French design

Fulton s folly
Fulton’s Folly

  • What Fulton did do:

    • Picked the right opportunity

      • Hudson River vs. Delaware River

    • Formed an effective team with Livingston

      • obtained monopoly on Hudson River traffic

    • Had mechanics with 20+ years experience working with steam engines

      • application of established technology to a timely problem

Classic innovations ii
Classic Innovations II

  • Model T – 1908

  • What Ford didn’t do:

    • Did not invent the automobile

      • Daimler - 1886

    • Did not invent concept of using internal combustion engines in automobiles

      • Seldon patent of 1897

    • Did not invent mass production of automobiles

      • Ransom Olds - 1903

The model t
The Model T

  • What Ford did do:

    • Recognized opportunity for a larger, lighter, less expensive car for families

      • Hold 5 people, long wheelbase, reliable (under 1000 lbs in weight), under $1000

    • Formed an effective team

      • Harold Wills – engineer

    • Incorporated an established technology

      • Vanadium steel

Steps to effective innovation
Steps to Effective Innovation

  • Identify the opportunity (i.e. have a problem in search of an answer)

    • Others (maybe most) won’t recognize this opportunity even when it is pointed out to them

  • Be aware of established technologies which can be applied to help solve the problem

    • Technical background/knowledge is essential

  • Build an effective team which complements your strengths

    • Individuals who appreciate the opportunity

Role of technology in innovation
Role of Technology in Innovation

  • Technology plays a critical role in innovation … but,

  • Implementation of the technology should not be a hurdle

    • New technology (high technology) typically requires 15-30 years of incubation before successful incorporation into innovations

    • Its successful application is rarely for the task it was developed!

Convergent technologies
Convergent Technologies

  • The convergence of established technologies with new opportunities, setting the stage for innovation.

    • Technologies are commonly disparate

      • Little or no previous connection to problem area of interest

    • Requires broadly educated, and/or diversely exposed individuals to make the connection

Implications for academia
Implications for Academia

  • Promote a culture of Innovation

    • Provide role models for students

    • Shift (some of) the focus of faculty from discovery to innovation

    • Emphasize work on interdisciplinary groups

  • Provide breadth of exposure

    • Engineering students not commonly exposed to technologies outside of major

  • Teach students to identify opportunity

    • Students get little/no practice in identifying opportunity

Identifying opportunity
Identifying Opportunity

  • Practice

    • More student initiated project work

  • Explicitly teach students to find opportunity (per Drucker)

    • Opportunity is associated with change

      • Demographic shifts

      • Process need

      • Incongruities in behavior

      • Unexpected events

      • Structural changes

      • Perceptual changes

Can this work yes
Can this work? – Yes!

  • Examples of Bioengineering spin-offs

    • Exogen, Inc.

      • Ultrasound and fracture healing

    • Bioelectronics, Inc.

      • Flexible electronics and reduction in edema

    • Juvent, Inc.

      • Electromagnetic actuators and enhancement of blood flow

    • Sonostics, LLC.

      • Microelectromechanical accelerometers and muscle diagnostics

“An innovator’s essential contribution

is to realize the promise of the known.”

- Harold Evans