Vaud, a pioneer in technology transfer

The transition of a technology from academy to economy has always existed in one form or another, but its structuring as a dedicated activity is not so old. In Switzerland, the canton of Vaud has long been a pioneer in this field.

The systematization of technology transfer at EPFL can be traced back to 1986 with the creation of CAST (Centre d'appui scientifique et technologique). The EPFL technology transfer office was then created in 1993, the one of the Vaud State Engineering School (now HEIG-VD) in 1996, and the one common to UNIL and CHUV in 2000. The equivalents of the ETH Zurich and the University of Geneva date from 1995 and 1998 respectively.


"Co-innovation becomes a habit."

In this video, Luc Henry, Scientific Advisor at EPFL, explains the interest of sharing between several entities.

EPFL's strategic choice

The creation of CAST was an important strategic choice. With this one-stop-shop model, the university is responsible for scientific management while partner companies pay the salaries of their employees. This will lead to significant collaborations, particularly with large companies such as Thomson and SMH, but also to failures such as the development of an artificial heart in collaboration with Sulzer.

In 1993, EPFL added the creation of a Technology Transfer Office (TTO) to this programme of collaboration with industry. Its mission is no longer only to promote research collaborations with industrialists, but also to source and evaluate the patentability potential of inventions born in the school's laboratories. It is also to support the filing of patents and to conclude licensing agreements either with companies or with start-up companies. The rule is that 33% of the licence revenue goes to the inventors, another third to the laboratory and the last third to EPFL. 1993 is also the year in which the Science Park was created, and today the EPFL Innovation Park.

The rise of the TTO is evident. The number of patents filed by EPFL doubled between 1995 and 2004 (256) and 2005 and 2014 (539). Today, it files nearly a hundred patent applications per year and has established more than two hundred collaboration contracts with industry, as well as more than fifty technology transfer agreements with companies, including some twenty start-ups from the school. According to the European Patent Office, EPFL has thus become one of the top 20 entities filing patents from Switzerland (66 in 2018), with ETH Zurich (80 in 2018).

In 2005, EPFL also implemented a variant of technology transfer oriented towards the creation of start-ups in the upstream phase: the Innogrants. An Innogrant pays a maximum of 100,000 francs, mainly in the form of a salary, to researchers in the creation phase of a start-up company. This tool has funded more than 100 teams and has helped to create more than 80 start-ups to date. More recently, the EPFL system has been enriched by several initiatives, targeting in particular student-entrepreneurs or projects with a positive impact on society.

«The number of patents filed by EPFL doubled between 1995 and 2004 (256) and 2005 and 2014 (539)»

Applied research at HEIG-VD

In 1996, the Vaud State School of Engineering (EINEV) and the AIT (Association vaudoise pour la promotion des innovations et des technologies) created a Centre d'études et de transfert des technologies (CeTT). With the creation of HEIG-VD in 2004, this organization became the Centre for Applied Research & Development, Innovation and Technology Transfer.

The Yverdon University of Applied Sciences considers that one of its main missions is to support and boost the economic and industrial fabric through applied research and development (R&D). On average, more than 200 research projects are carried out each year in the institution's 13 R&D institutes and cross-functional skills groups.

Since 2007, the HEIG-VD has also been running an annual competition for start-up grants. At the end of 2018, a total of 27 projects had been supported. With several successes to its credit, including Netguardians, a company active in the field of artificial intelligence for fraud detection. Part of the first batch, it employed more than 70 people at the beginning of 2019, including 40 in Switzerland. It has sales in several countries and is part of the closed club of scale-ups, the canton's high-growth innovative companies.

«Since 2007, the HEIG-VD has also been running an annual competition for start-up grants»

The UNIL - CHUV alliance

In February 2000, the University of Lausanne (UNIL) and the Centre hospitalier universitaire vaudois (CHUV) created their technology transfer office, the PACTT (Powering Academia-industry Collaborations and Technology Transfer). Its missions are the protection and management of intellectual property, the negotiation and management of collaborative contracts with industry and other institutions and the promotion of interactions between companies and institutions and researchers. In addition, the commercialization of research results (licensing agreements, research and service contracts) and support for the creation of local start-ups.

In 2017, the PACTT programme supervised 210 research contracts. It had filed 33 invention declarations, nine priority applications and also signed eight patent licences. The PACTT's start-up creation support programme dates back to 2013 and had supported 17 projects by the end of 2018.

«In 2017, the PACTT progeamme supervised 210 research contracts»