Technology transfer, a gateway to innovation

However, as strong as the R&D activity of an economy may be, this is not enough to make it a fertile ground for innovation. To this end, research must be promoted in an appropriate framework, especially when it is transferred from the academic world to private companies.

In companies, technology transfer, from R&D labs to business units, can be structured and governed in different ways, but it remains internal. It is therefore necessary to set up a special framework when this transfer involves external collaborations, in particular when a technology moves from academic research to the business world.

Although it represents less than a third of the R&D investment of the Swiss economy, academic research is strategic for our companies. It can, in fact, complement or even increase the R&D of established companies or be the basis for new companies (start-ups).

In this context, tech transfer, i.e. the transfer of a technology or idea born in an academic laboratory to the business world for commercialization, has become a strategic activity for the Swiss and Vaud economy

«Academic research is strategic for our companies»

Tech transfer, a significant activity for Swiss universities

In Switzerland, the Polytechnic Schools, as well as most universities and universities of applied sciences, have had services dedicated entirely to the management of these transfers for the past 30 years: the Technology Transfer Office (TTO). In 2017, the Swiss Technology Transfer Association (SwiTT) brought together the technology transfer offices of eight cantonal universities, two Federal Institutes of Technology, six universities of applied sciences (HES) and three research institutions in the field of the Federal Institutes of Technology.

This institutionalization responds to needs. Formalized and standardized rules and practices for technology transfer are important criteria for companies considering collaborating with institutions or establishing themselves in Switzerland.

A major contributor

In 2017, the Vaud institutions that are members of SwiTT contributed a quarter or even a third of the technology transfer activities in Switzerland with around 100 patent applications, around 60 licensing agreements and around 20 new companies created.

With an ETH on its soil, the canton of Vaud logically accounts for a quarter of the technology transfer activities of universities in Switzerland


On the other hand, in terms of research partnerships, Vaud institutions are lagging behind with just over 15% of the total, despite a respectable volume of nearly 600 partnerships established.

Life sciences and measurement devices

Swiss intellectual property production is characterized by the predominant importance of biotechnology and a historically high contribution in the pharmaceutical and organic chemistry fields.

In the canton of Vaud, patent production at the two university schools focuses on life sciences and organic chemistry, with a significant and growing share of patents in these fields. Just behind, the fields of measuring devices and electronic equipment remain important, but are no longer growing.

Life sciences and organic chemistry are the two most dynamic areas of intellectual property in the canton's universities


It should be noted that while the inventions published over the last four years are distributed among nearly 450 inventors, there are very few "serial inventors": only five of them have filed more than five applications with the European Patent Office over this period (1% of inventors for 10% of all applications).

«Swiss intellectual property production is characterized by the predominant importance of biotechnology»

Who benefits from the transfer?

At the Swiss level, the statistics produced by SwiTT show that the partners in research collaborations are, in decreasing order: public institutions, large companies (more than 250 employees) and SMEs. The data are not detailed at the level of institutions, regions or cantons.

SMEs are the main users of intellectual property generated by universities in Switzerland


For licence agreements, the image is exactly reversed. It is mainly SMEs that come looking for "ready-made" technologies, before large companies and the public sector. It should be noted, however, that the figures on which these conclusions are based remain small (215) and partial, with a significant proportion of partners in licensing agreements not reported. The geographical distribution of partners is not made public, in particular the proportion of partners coming from outside Switzerland or crossing cantonal borders.

A new transfer tool, the start-up

While research collaborations are important, as are other forms of commercial relations between academia and business, the most tangible results of technology transfer are embodied, on the one hand, in the exploitation of patents and, on the other hand, increasingly in the creation of start-ups. The latter assume the initial risk of launching an innovation, even if it means being bought back once the potential of the innovation has been demonstrated.

Collaboration and licensing activities see different dynamics than patent filings or start-up creation


While the technology transfer activity of the main academic institutions in the canton of Vaud is constantly growing in terms of patent filings and invention announcements, it remains relatively stable in terms of the number of licences granted and research partnerships.

The visible acceleration of the start-up phenomenon and the significant increase in the number of research staff in the canton is therefore not accompanied, at this stage, by an acceleration of technology transfer activities with established companies.

«The increase in the number of research is therefore not accompanied, at this age, by an acceleration of transfer technology»