1675b A good idea that failed: a technology transfer case study

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Advances in technology and innovations in intellectual property are natural outputs of labs performing occupational safety and health research. Many of these new ideas and technologies have the potential to evolve into products or practices that can be adopted in the workplace. Yet practical innovations with a strong market potential routinely fail despite their promise.


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) analysed a variety of workplace safety and health technologies that were never transferred beyond the lab. We mapped their development and considered points at which an alternative process may have led to a more successful outcome. To inform our analysis, we applied product adoption literature from marketing and business strategy fields.


We found that most prototypes developed by research organisations were created with laboratory usage in mind. Others were created with input from potential customers or partners, but many aspects of their design, production, and marketing would have benefited had third parties taken over these roles.


By better understanding the nature of an innovation and by framing that innovation in a business—rather than a laboratory—context, research organisations are more likely to successfully commercialise their technologies. By establishing stronger positions within industry value chains, research organisations are able to form partnerships and better leverage their own core competencies.

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