Skip to main content

University technology transfer and the evolution of regional specialization: the case of Turin

Abstract

The paper is aimed at obtaining a better understanding of the role played by universities in the technological development and specialization of the territories in which they are located. Our methodology adopts both quantitative and qualitative techniques. First, we provide evidence of the interplay between the technological specialization of universities and the evolution of the technological trajectories of firms located in Italian NUTS3 regions. We also propose an original taxonomy of university-region technological evolution processes that leads to the identification of four possible models and reveals substantial heterogeneity in university-region specialization processes. Finally, we analyze the underlying mechanisms of university technology transfer activities in more detail, by using the Politecnico di Torino as a single case study. The case examines how the university has changed its strategy by modifying the mix of exploitation and exploration strategies to continue increasing the technological proximity with the local ecosystem under conditions of rapid and radical change. Our work offers important implications for both regional technology policies and the management of universities.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Notes

  1. 1.

    At the European level, the university regulations and policies governing IPRs are heterogeneous, with a prevalence of institutional ownership and the notable exception of inventor ownership in Italy and Sweden. Previous scientific work highlighted the difficulties in assessing the impact of academic institutions on innovative productivity played by the recent knowledge transfer transformative processes (Geuna and Rossi 2011). Although there is evidence of an increase in the number of university-owned patents in the period under scrutiny, testing for such legislative changes is not the objective of this paper.

  2. 2.

    Documento unico di Programmazione (DOCUP) for the years between 2000 and 2006.

  3. 3.

    Istituto Superiore Mario Boella.

  4. 4.

    Istituto Superiore sui Sistemi Territoriali per l’Innovazione.

  5. 5.

    Diffusione dell’innovazione nelle aree a declino industriale.

  6. 6.

    Among the others, Agrifood, Biotechnologies and Biomedical, Renewable Energies and Biofuel, ICT, Sustainable Chemistry, New Materials, Mechatronics, and Advanced Production Systems.

  7. 7.

    From 34 unique IPC classes in the years between 2009 and 2013 to 42 in the years between 2014 and 2017.

References

  1. Acosta, M., Coronado, D., León, D., & Martínez, Á. (2009). Production of university technological knowledge in European regions: Evidence from patent data. Regional Studies, 43(9), 1167–1181.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Acs, Z., Audretsch, D., & Feldman, M. (1992). Real effects of academic research: Comment. The American Economic Review, 82(1), 363–367.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Ambos, T., Mäkelä, K., Birkinshaw, J., & d’Este, P. (2008). When does university research get commercialized? Creating ambidexterity in research institutions. Journal of Management Studies, 45(8), 1424–1447.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Anselin, L., Varga, A., & Acs, Z. (1997). Local geographic spillovers between university research and high technology innovations. Journal of Urban Economics, 42(3), 422–448.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Anselin, L., Varga, A., & Acs, Z. (2000). Geographical spillovers and university research: A spatial econometric perspective. Growth and Change, 31(4), 501–515.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Antonelli, C. (1995). The economics of localized technological change and industrial dynamics. Dordrecht: Springer.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  7. Antonelli, C., Crespi, F., Mongeau Ospina, C., & Scellato, G. (2017). Knowledge composition, Jacobs externalities and innovation performance in European regions. Regional Studies, 51(11), 1708–1720.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Arundel, A., & Geuna, A. (2004). Proximity and the use of public science by innovative European firms. Economics of Innovation and New Technology, 13(6), 559–580.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Balassa, B. (1965). Trade liberalisation and revealed comparative advantage. The Manchester School, 33(2), 99–123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Baldini, N., Fini, R., Grimaldi, R., & Sobrero, M. (2014). Organisational change and the institutionalisation of university patenting activity in Italy. Minerva, 52, 27–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Becattini, G. (1990). The marshallian industrial district as a socio-economic notion. In F. Pyke, W. Sengenberger, & G. Becattini (Eds.), Industrial districts and inter-firm cooperation in Italy (pp. 37–51). Geneva: International Institute for Labour Studies.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Bonaccorsi, A., Colombo, M., Guerini, M., & Rossi-Lamastra, C. (2013). University specialization and new firm creation across industries. Small Business Economics, 41(4), 837–863.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Bonaccorsi, A., & Piccaluga, A. (1994). A theoretical framework for the evaluation of university-industry relationships. R&D Management, 24(3), 229–247.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Boschma, R. (2005). Proximity and innovation: A critical assessment. Regional Studies, 39(1), 61–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Boschma, R. (2014). Constructing regional advantage and Smart Specialisation: Comparison of two European policy concepts. Scienze Regionali, 1, 51–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Boschma, R. & Frenken, K. (2011). Technological relatedness and regional branching. In Bathelt, H., Feldman, M., & Kogler, D. (eds.), Beyond territory: Dynamic geographies of knowledge creation, diffusion and innovation (ch. 4, pp. 64–81). New York: Routledge.

  17. Boschma, R., Minondo, A., & Navarro, M. (2013). The emergence of new industries at the regional level in Spain: A proximity approach based on product relatedness. Economic Geography, 89(1), 29–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Bramwell, A., & Wolfe, D. (2008). Universities and regional economic development: The entrepreneurial University of Waterloo. Research Policy, 37(8), 1175–1187.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Braunerhjelm, P. (2008). Specialization of regions and universities: The new versus the old. Industry and Innovation, 15(3), 253–275.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Breschi, S. & Malerba, F. (1997). Sectoral innovation systems: Technological regimes, Schumpeterian dynamics, and spatial boundaries. In Edquist, C. (ed.), Systems of innovation: Technologies, institutions and organizations (ch. 6, pp. 130–156). London: Pinter.

  21. Breznitz, S., & Feldman, M. (2012a). The engaged university. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 37(2), 139–157.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Breznitz, S., & Feldman, M. (2012b). The larger role of the university in economic development: Introduction to the special issue. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 37(2), 135–138.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Bruneel, J., d’Este, P., & Salter, A. (2010). Investigating the factors that diminish the barriers to university–industry collaboration. Research Policy, 39(7), 858–868.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Calderini, M., & Scellato, G. (2005). Academic research, technological specialization and the innovation performance in European regions: An empirical analysis in the wireless sector. Industrial and Corporate Change, 14(2), 279–305.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Cantwell, J. (1995). The globalisation of technology: What remains of the product cycle model? Cambridge Journal of Economics, 19(1), 155–174.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Cantwell, J., & Janne, O. (1999). Technological globalisation and innovative centres: The role of corporate technological leadership and locational hierarchy. Research Policy, 28(2–3), 119–144.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Carree, M., Della Malva, A., & Santarelli, E. (2014). The contribution of universities to growth: Empirical evidence for Italy. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 39(3), 393–414.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Cesaroni, F., & Piccaluga, A. (2016). The activities of university knowledge transfer offices: Towards the third mission in Italy. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 41(4), 753–777.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Chang, Y., Yang, P., & Chen, M. (2009). The determinants of academic research commercial performance: Towards an organizational ambidexterity perspective. Research Policy, 38(6), 936–946.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Cohen, W., & Levinthal, D. (1990). Absorptive capacity: A new perspective on learning and innovation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 35(1), 128–152.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Cohen, W., Nelson, R., & Walsh, J. (2002). Links and impacts: The influence of public research on industrial R&D. Management Science, 48(1), 1–23.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Colantonio, A., Burdett, R., & Rode, P. (2013). Transforming urban economies: Policy lessons from European and Asian cities. New York: Routledge.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  33. Colombelli, A. (2006). Modelli di trasformazione territoriale: Lezioni per Torino. In G. Russo & P. Terna (Eds.), Produrre a Torino. Torino: Otto Editore.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Colombelli, A., Krafft, J., & Quatraro, F. (2014). The emergence of new technology-based sectors in European regions: A proximity-based analysis of nanotechnology. Research Policy, 43(10), 1681–1696.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Colombelli, A., Paolucci, E., & Ughetto, E. (2019). Hierarchical and relational governance and the life cycle of entrepreneurial ecosystems. Small Business Economics, 52(2), 505–521.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Cooke, P., & Morgan, K. (1999). The associational economy: Firms, regions, and innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Coronado, D., Flores, E., & Martínez, Á. (2017). The role of regional economic specialization in the production of university-owned patents. The Annals of Regional Science, 59(2), 513–533.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. D’Este, P., & Patel, P. (2007). University–industry linkages in the UK: What are the factors underlying the variety of interactions with industry? Research Policy, 36(9), 1295–1313.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Druilhe, C., & Garnsey, E. (2004). Do academic spin-outs differ and does it matter? The Journal of Technology Transfer, 29(3–4), 269–285.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Edquist, C. (1997). Systems of innovation: Technologies, institutions and organizations. London: Pinter.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Etzkowitz, H. (2001). The second academic revolution and the rise of entrepreneurial science. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, 20(2), 18–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Etzkowitz, H., & Leydesdorff, L. (1995). The triple helix–university–industry–government relations: A laboratory for knowledge based economic development. European Association for the Study of Science and Technology Review, 14(1), 14–19.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Etzkowitz, H., & Leydesdorff, L. (2000). The dynamics of innovation: From National Systems and ‘Mode 2’ to a Triple Helix of university–industry–government relations. Research Policy, 29(2), 109–123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. European Commission (2017). LAB–FAB–APP. Investing in the European future we want. Report of the independent high-level group on maximising the impact of EU Research & Innovation Programmes. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

  45. European Commission (2018). Funding—Awareness—Scale—Talent (FAST). Europe is back: accelerating breakthrough innovation. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

  46. Evangelista, R., Meliciani, V., & Vezzani, A. (2018). Specialisation in Key Enabling Technologies and regional growth in Europe. Economics of Innovation and New Technology, 27(3), 273–289.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Feldman, M. (1994). The university and economic development: The case of Johns Hopkins University and Baltimore. Economic Development Quarterly, 8(1), 67–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Foray, D. (2009). The new economics of technology policy. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  49. Foray, D. (2014). Smart Specialisation: Opportunities and challenges for regional innovation policy. New York: Routledge.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  50. Freeman, C. (1987). Technology and economic performance: Lessons from Japan. London: Pinter.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Freeman, C. (1995). The ‘National System of Innovation’ in historical perspective. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 19(1), 5–24.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Frenken, K., & Boschma, R. A. (2007). A theoretical framework for evolutionary economic geography: Industrial dynamics and urban growth as a branching process. Journal of Economic Geography, 7(5), 635–649.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Friedman, J., & Silberman, J. (2003). University technology transfer: Do incentives, management, and location matter? The Journal of technology transfer, 28(1), 17–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Fritsch, M., & Kublina, S. (2018). Related variety, unrelated variety and regional growth: The role of absorptive capacity and entrepreneurship. Regional Studies, 52(10), 1360–1371.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Fritsch, M., & Slavtchev, V. (2007). Universities and innovation in space. Industry and Innovation, 14(2), 201–218.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Geuna, A., & Rossi, F. (2011). Changes to university IPR regulations in Europe and the impact on academic patenting. Research Policy, 40(8), 1068–1076.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Gibson, C., & Birkinshaw, J. (2004). The antecedents, consequences, and mediating role of organizational ambidexterity. Academy of Management Journal, 47(2), 209–226.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Griliches, Z. (1979). Issues in assessing the contribution of research and development to productivity growth. Bell Journal of Economics, 10(1), 92–116.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Gunasekara, C. (2006). Reframing the role of universities in the development of regional innovation systems. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 31(1), 101–113.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Hansen, M. (1999). The search-transfer problem: the role of weak ties in sharing knowledge across organization subunits. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(1), 82–111.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Hinloopen, J., & van Marrewijk, C. (2008). Empirical relevance of the Hillman condition for revealed comparative advantage: Ten stylized facts. Applied Economics, 40(18), 2313–2328.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Iapadre, L. (2001). Measuring international specialization. International Advances in Economic Research, 7(2), 173–183.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Jaffe, A. (1989). Real effects of academic research. American Economic Review, 79(5), 957–970.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Jaffe, A., & Trajtenberg, M. (1999). International knowledge flows: Evidence from patent citations. Economics of Innovation and New Technology, 8(1–2), 105–136.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Jaffe, A., Trajtenberg, M., & Henderson, R. (1993). Geographic localization of knowledge spillovers as evidenced by patent citations. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 108(3), 577–598.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Keeble, D. (2001). University and technology: science and technology parks in the Cambridge region. Technical report, Cambridge: University of Cambridge.

  67. Laursen, K. (2015). Revealed comparative advantage and the alternatives as measures of international specialization. Eurasian Business Review, 5(1), 99–115.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Laursen, K., Reichstein, T., & Salter, A. (2011). Exploring the effect of geographical proximity and university quality on university–industry collaboration in the United Kingdom. Regional Studies, 45(4), 507–523.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Laursen, K., & Salter, A. (2005). The fruits of intellectual production: Economic and scientific specialisation among OECD countries. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 29(2), 289–308.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Lazzeroni, M., & Piccaluga, A. (2015). Beyond ‘town and gown’: The role of the university in small and medium-sized cities. Industry and Higher Education, 29(1), 11–23.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Leten, B., Landoni, P., & Van Looy, B. (2014). Science or graduates: How do firms benefit from the proximity of universities? Research Policy, 43(8), 1398–1412.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Leydesdorff, L., & Etzkowitz, H. (1996). Emergence of a Triple Helix of university—industry—government relations. Science and Public Policy, 23(5), 279–286.

    Google Scholar 

  73. Leydesdorff, L., & Etzkowitz, H. (1998). Triple Helix of innovation. Science and Public Policy, 25(6), 358–364.

    Google Scholar 

  74. Liegsalz, J., & Wagner, S. (2013). Patent examination at the state intellectual property office in China. Research Policy, 42(2), 552–563.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Link, A., Siegel, D., & Bozeman, B. (2007). An empirical analysis of the propensity of academics to engage in informal university technology transfer. Industrial and Corporate Change, 16(4), 641–655.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. Lissoni, F., Pezzoni, M., Poti, B., & Romagnosi, S. (2013). University autonomy, the professor privilege and academic patenting: Italy, 1996–2007. Industry and Innovation, 20(5), 399–421.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. Lundvall, B. (2010). National systems of innovation: Toward a theory of innovation and interactive learning (Vol. 2). London: Anthem Press.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Malerba, F., Orsenigo, L., & Peretto, P. (1997). Persistence of innovative activities, sectoral patterns of innovation and international technological specialization. International Journal of Industrial Organization, 15(6), 801–826.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Mansfield, E. (1991). Academic research and industrial innovation. Research Policy, 20(1), 1–12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  80. Mansfield, E. (1998). Academic research and industrial innovation: an update of empirical findings. Research Policy, 26(7–8), 773–776.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  81. Mansfield, E., & Lee, J. (1996). The modern university: Contributor to industrial innovation and recipient of industrial R&D support. Research Policy, 25(7), 1047–1058.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  82. Montresor, S., & Quatraro, F. (2017). Regional branching and Key Enabling Technologies: Evidence from European patent data. Economic Geography, 93(4), 367–396.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  83. Muscio, A., & Vallanti, G. (2014). Perceived obstacles to university–industry collaboration: Results from a qualitative survey of Italian academic departments. Industry and Innovation, 21(5), 410–429.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  84. Neffke, F., Hartog, M., Boschma, R., & Henning, M. (2018). Agents of structural change: The role of firms and entrepreneurs in regional diversification. Economic Geography, 94(1), 23–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  85. Neffke, F., Henning, M., & Boschma, R. (2011). How do regions diversify over time? Industry relatedness and the development of new growth paths in regions. Economic Geography, 87(3), 237–265.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  86. Nelson, R. (1993). National innovation systems: A comparative analysis. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  87. Nelson, R. & Rosenberg, N. (1993). Technical innovation and national systems. In Nelson, R. (ed.), National innovation systems: A comparative analysis (ch. 1, pp. 3–21). New York: Oxford University Press.

  88. Nooteboom, B. (2000). Learning and innovation in organizations and economies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  89. Patel, P., & Pavitt, K. (1987). Is western Europe losing the technological race? Research Policy, 16(2–4), 59–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  90. Perkmann, M., & Walsh, K. (2007). University–industry relationships and open innovation: Towards a research agenda. International Journal of Management Reviews, 9(4), 259–280.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  91. Qian, H., & Jung, H. (2017). Solving the knowledge filter puzzle: Absorptive capacity, entrepreneurship and regional development. Small Business Economics, 48(1), 99–114.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  92. Quatraro, F. (2007). Change versus decline: A comparative analysis of the evolution of TFP in Italian regions, with a particular attention to the case of Turin. International Review of Economics, 54(1), 86–105.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  93. Raisch, S., & Birkinshaw, J. (2008). Organizational ambidexterity: Antecedents, outcomes, and moderators. Journal of Management, 34(3), 375–409.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  94. Shane, S. A. (2004). Academic entrepreneurship: University spinoffs and wealth creation. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  95. Soete, L. (1987). The impact of technological innovation on international trade patterns: The evidence reconsidered. Research Policy, 16(2–4), 101–130.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  96. Soete, L., & Wyatt, S. (1983). The use of foreign patenting as an internationally comparable science and technology output indicator. Scientometrics, 5(1), 31–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  97. Tushman, M., & O’Reilly, C. (1996). Ambidextrous organizations: Managing evolutionary and revolutionary change. California Management Review, 38(4), 8–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  98. Uyarra, E. (2010). Conceptualizing the regional roles of universities, implications and contradictions. European Planning Studies, 18(8), 1227–1246.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  99. Vollrath, T. (1991). A theoretical evaluation of alternative trade intensity measures of revealed comparative advantage. Review of World Economics, 127(2), 265–280.

    Google Scholar 

  100. Weber, M., Lamprecht, K., & Biegelbauer, P. (2019). The Shaping a new understanding of the impact of Horizon Europe: The roles of the European Commission and Member States. Journal for Research and Technology Policy Evaluation, 47, 146–154.

    Google Scholar 

  101. Whitford, J., & Enrietti, A. (2005). Surviving the fall of a king: The regional institutional implications of crisis at Fiat Auto. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 29(4), 771–795.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  102. Yeats, A. (1985). On the appropriate interpretation of the revealed comparative advantage index: Implications of a methodology based on industry sector analysis. Review of World Economics, 121(1), 61–73.

    Google Scholar 

  103. Zucker, L., Darby, M., & Armstrong, J. (1998). Geographically localized knowledge: spillovers or markets? Economic Inquiry, 36(1), 65–86.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This paper was supported by the research project “University research funding, patenting and technological Impact” financed by the Academic Research Programme of the European Patent Office (EPO) under grant no. 2018/8401. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this work are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the EPO.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alessandra Colombelli.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 2 and 3, Figs. 4 and 5.

Fig. 4
figure4

Number of technology specializations by type and group of years (first 25 universities by total number of technology specializations)

Fig. 5
figure5

Technological entry over the period from 1999 to 2013

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Colombelli, A., De Marco, A., Paolucci, E. et al. University technology transfer and the evolution of regional specialization: the case of Turin. J Technol Transf 46, 933–960 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10961-020-09801-w

Download citation

Keywords

  • Knowledge spillover
  • Regional branching
  • University patenting
  • Technological specialization
  • Revealed technological advantage

JEL Classification

  • O32
  • O33
  • O34