Relationship between Technology Transfer and Knowledge Transfer


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There are many researchers who have attempted to explain, directly or indirectly, the relationship between technology transfer and knowledge transfer and some even tried to draw distinction between the two concepts.

Technology transfer is the process by which basic science research and fundamental discoveries are developed into practical and commercially relevant applications and products. In other hand, knowledge transfer is the process by which experienced employees share or distribute their knowledge, skills and behaviors to the employees replacing them. Kogut and Zander (1992,1993), in their study on knowledge transfer within the multinationals (MNCs), use both terms interchangeably to establish a close association between technology transfer and knowledge transfer when suggesting that technology  transfer within MNCs can be explained by the attributes of knowledge such as tacitness, codifiability and teachability.

Based on definitions and concepts gathered from various literatures, the area of technology transfer is wide and dynamic. The numbers of literatures on the subject are voluminous, extensive and varied in perspectives (Kumar et al., 1999; Zhoa and Reisman, 1992). A review of literature reveals that past studies have made little attempt to explain the difference between knowledge transfer and technology transfer. Many of the studies do not draw a clear line between knowledge and technology transfer because most of the studies have regularly applied the term interchangeably in both technology transfer and knowledge transfer literatures; where majority have treated knowledge transfer and technology transfer as having similar meaning.

Based on various definitions from different disciplines of research and background, majority of the researchers have affirmed that technology transfer is closely associated with the transfer of information, know-how, technical knowledge which is embodied in the products, processes and managements. This is obviously because of the critical element of knowledge that underlies technology transfer (Hall and Johnson, 1970; Kanyak, 1985; Shiowattana, 1987; Das, 1987; Williams and Gibson, 1990; Hayden, 1992; Gibson and Rogers, 1994). Other definitions of technology transfer, for example Grosse (1996) makes direct reference to knowledge as elements underlying technology transfer of product technology, process technology and management technology.

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Sinani and Meyer (2004), when studying the spillovers of technology transfer from FDI in Estonia, make no distinction between technology transfer and knowledge transfer. Sung and Gibson (2000), in their study on levels and keys factor in knowledge and technology transfer, connote technology and knowledge transfer to have similar meaning. They suggest that knowledge and technology transfer as the movement of knowledge and technology through some channels from one individual or organization to another.

Past studies have suggested that technology and knowledge are inseparable. For example Sahal (1981, 1982) argues that technology as ‘configuration’, observing that the transfer object, the technology must rely on a subjectively determined but specifiable set of processes and products. It is no longer sufficient to simply focus on the product because it is not only the product that is being transferred but the knowledge of its use and application which are embedded in the products.

Bozeman (2000), in his study on technology transfer and public policy, states that the approach by Sahal (1981, 1982) has resolved a major analytical problem in distinguishing the technology and knowledge transfer. Both technology and knowledge transfer are inseparable because when a technological product is transferred or diffused the knowledge upon which its composition is based is also transferred (Bozeman, 2000). A recent study by Li-Hua (2006) on the effectiveness of technology transfer in China indicates that the technology will not occur without knowledge transfer as knowledge is the key to control technology.

Simonin (1999b), in the study of transfer of marketing know-how in strategic alliance, suggests that study on knowledge transfer turn almost invariably to technology transfer when empirical investigation is in order. Studies have shown that the tendency of the current studies have connected technology directly with knowledge (Dunning, 1994).

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In the context of technology transfer through FDI, Kogut and Zander (1993) have explicitly indicated foreign direct investment is the transfer of knowledge, which embodies a firm’s advantage, underlies technology, production, marketing or other activities.

Although technology transfer and knowledge transfer has been regularly used interchangeably in many literatures since they are highly interactive, however, they serve different purposes. Gopalakrishnan and Santoro (2004) distinguish technology transfer and knowledge transfer in term of their purposes when they argue that knowledge transfer focuses on a broader and have more inclusive construct which is directed more towards the “why” for change, whereas technology transfer focuses on a narrow and more targeted construct that usually embodies certain tools for changing the environment.

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Even though there are distinctions between their purposes, majority of researchers agree that knowledge is the critical element that underlies technology transfer.

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