Originally Published MDDI October 2003FROM THE EDITORS

October 1, 2003

3 Min Read
A New Take on Technology Transfer: Technology Migration

Originally Published MDDI October 2003


By developing a product on spec for military use, device companies can pave the way toward later success in the private sector.

You've read much in MD&DI about device companies that have developed innovative products for the private sector. But equally noteworthy are firms that conduct cutting-edge product development with the military or an emergency response agency in mind. 

In earlier times, when more public funding was available, such products were usually developed as the result of a direct relationship between a device firm and a government agency. But now, device companies often take the lead. Some will develop a rugged version of a product specifically for the military or emergency response agencies, and then later introduce it to the private sector. The results are often based on input from the government, but not necessarily on direct funding. It's a migration of technology from one sector to another rather than technology transfer.

This model has been used for a broad range of medical products, from highly developed diagnostic and patient-monitoring systems to high-tech bandages and one-handed tourniquets. 

“I won't call it a trend,” said Welch Allyn's Ben Williams, “but [there is] certainly an emerging practice [of] ‘informed development' of products with the military.” Williams is director of strategic accounts at the Skaneateles Falls, NY, company, which has several such projects. Success in this arena, he said, entails “understanding the specific mission requirements that the military has, and developing commercial products with those in mind.” The result is “products that are optimized for certain segments of the commercial market.”

But the crossover process is likely to happen gradually. “There isn't any kind of a direct transfer or a direct conduit from military applications to the commercial market that is immediate and direct for most medical device manufacturers,” he explained. “The majority of people you talk to at most military trade shows are not on active duty. They're in the National Guard or the Reserves. They are the doctors and the nurses in your community, but they're in the military part of the year. They see products or are exposed to products that are in use in the military, then take that knowledge home with them. Active duty personnel do the same thing when they are discharged.” 

In July, for example, Welch Allyn announced the launch of its Mobile Acuity LT central monitoring station, intended for use in emergency response settings. It enables care providers to establish treatment areas in military and emergency response environments. The Propaq monitors that connect to the Acuity LT are good examples of a product developed for military use now and other uses later. “There's been a kind of evolutionary development process for the last eight years to make them more durable, more rugged, more usable, and so on,” Williams said. “To meet the military specs and requirements, they have to pass a whole set of tests. The result is a product that is optimized for a military application, even though they didn't sign us up to develop something specific for them. Then, by extension, it's a product that's optimized for segments of the commercial market.”

Because the government cannot support specific product development or provide product or vendor endorsement, Williams said, device firms are challenged to develop “a collaborative position and understand the [government's] needs.” Then they must “develop products to meet the needs, but be sensitive to and not go over the boundaries.” 

That is no easy task. But those who can manage it may find that the long-term rewards are well worth the extra effort. 

The Editors

Copyright ©2003 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

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