GETI/GLOCOM Platform Joint Seminar
Technology Transfer Practice in Switzerland: the Case of Neuchatel
Summary by GETI Staff
||March 7, 2003
||GLOCOM; 6-15-12 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
||Dr. Yuko Harayama (Professor at Tohoku University)
||Technology Transfer Practice in Switzerland: the Case of Neuchatel
Dr. Yuko Harayama, a professor in the Management of Science and Technology Department, Graduate School of Engineering at Tohoku University, discussed technology transfer practices in the field of microsystems technology (MST) in Neuchatel, Switzerland at the most recent GETI/GLOCOM technology seminar. Dr. Harayama is also a faculty fellow at the Research Institute of Economy, Trade, and Industry, an independent agency under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), and a visiting researcher at University of Neuchatel. She has lived in Switzerland for 20 years and obtained PhDs in Education and Economics from the University of Geneve. Dr. Harayama provided an historical account of the MST industrial cluster in Neuchatel, a town in the north-western part of Switzerland, describing the role of the CSEM (Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology) and its role in the creation and support of start-up and spin-off companies. MST is a term commonly used in Europe to describe the integration of heterogeneous devices with feature sizes in the range of micrometers and is the European equivalent to MEMS (micro electro mechanical systems).
Neuchatel has long been the center of the global clock industry since the 18th century. Up until the 1950s, a large number of clock parts manufacturers and assemblers as well as several internationally renowned clock suppliers concentrated their operations in Neuchatel. Back in 1921, under the leadership of the University of Neuchatel coupled with the support of both Canton (local) and federal governments, a mechanical watch manufacturing laboratory (LRH) was established as an industry-government-university partnership. Later in the 1960s, an electronic watch central laboratory (CEH) was established in order to prepare for the transition from mechanical to electronic watches, though mechanical products were still the mainstream products being produced. Companies such as Omega and Longines developed electronic and quartz watch technology but did not commercialize digital watches because they were largely content with the stable global market for conventional mechanical products. However, starting from the 1980 the market for digital watches increased significantly leading to the contraction of the mechanical watch market. This forced local manufacturers to adopt new digital technologies and commercialize them. They looked at MST to be the next-generation technology driver. The Swiss Federal government promoted MST since the late 1960s, and government subsidies increased supporting the technology. Attention directed toward the development of MST led to the creation of two intermediary organizations: FSRM (Swiss Foundation for Research in Microtechnology) in 1978 and CSEM in 1984. FSRM was founded in Neuchatel by the Swiss Federal government, 9 Canton governments, 3 municipal governments, LSRH (former LRH), and CEH. FSRM's mission was to train microtechnology engineers and provide the necessary research infrastructure. On the other hand, CSEM was founded by integrating the research units of LSRH, CEH, and FSRM under an initiative led by the Canton of Neuchatel and in partnership with the University of Neuchatel. CSEM was established as a "non-profit" joint-stock company.
CSEM's mandate is to develop and exploit MST and microelectronics technologies and to transfer developed technologies to small to medium-sized enterprises. In other words, CSEM bridges the gap between university research and the marketplace. CSEM conducts applied research in order to develop proprietary technology. It also conducts feasibility studies and is capable of small-lot production of prototypes. CSEM is currently staffed with approximately 260 people, one-third of whom are PhDs, another one-third is technicians, and the remaining one-third are management and administrative staff. Up until now, over 10 companies have been spun off from CSEM. One very successful spin-off is Colibrys SA, a company which produces advanced microsystems and custom MEMS and related services. When a spin-off company is founded, the relevant section is separated from CSEM. CSEM spin-off companies currently employ a total of 270 people. In addition to spin-off companies, CSEM has established several subsidiaries and helped create start-up companies based on CSEM's proprietary technology. More than 50% of the company's operating expenses are supported by business revenues coming from commissioned services and sale of products from these companies. Subsidies from the federal government account for less than half of its operating expenses.
Dr. Harayama pointed out that the Swiss MST industry and research institutes have worked closely to support engineering education and training. The Swiss Association for Microtechnology (ASMT), founded in 1962, has played a key role in unifying the voice of industry and has effectively lobbied for favorable policies that support the system for training microsystems technologists. As a result, faculty positions were newly created in Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology. Moreover, the Institute of Microtechnology (IMT) was established at the University of Neuchatel in 1975 and the Center of Microtechnology (CMI) at EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne) in 1999. The Swiss government also reformed the higher education system and upgraded technical junior colleges to the status of applied science universities in 1999 in an attempt to increase the number of professional engineers. At present, faculty, researchers, and students at these institutes conduct joint research and training, while CSEM provides engineers with hands-on applied research experience. FSRM offers microsystems training programs not only in Switzerland but also throughout Europe.
In summary, Dr. Harayama mentioned several success factors in the development and support of the MST industry in Neuchatel. First, the partnership between the Federal and municipal governments worked very well. The parties involved shared the same understanding that MST would play and important role in supporting economic growth. Second, the Federal government provided subsidies. This included financial support to CSEM and FSRM. The government also offered matching funds to assist small and medium-size technology companies. Third, CSEM and FSRM function as intermediaries bridging the gap between universities and companies in order to facilitate technology transfer and training. This supported successful commercialization of technology developed in the lab. Fourth, Dr. Harayama stressed the importance of the role of the existing local watch industry. Neuchatel already had a large number of small and medium sized companies with expertise in microfabrication for watch manufacturing. These companies provided contract fabrication services to technology ventures that generally do not have a well-established manufacturing capability. Finally, Dr. Harayama compared MST technology transfer practices in Switzerland with that of Japan. It was emphasized that Japan could learn from the Swiss model, especially in the area of workforce training supported by industry-university-government partnerships. She concluded that a major difference between Swiss and Japanese methodologies was that the process was more centralized in Japan and that there was more local participation in shaping national objectives in Switzerland.