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Tech Transfer Office Culture Preventing Commercialization of Technology

Written by on Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

 A Kansas City Business Journal report, citing a report released by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Research Foundation, concludes that  a "’home run mentality’ in university technology transfer offices may be keeping many valuable research projects from reaching first base in the commercialization process."

The Kansas City Business Journal stated:

According to the report, universities tend to focus their limited technology-transfer resources only on the patenting and licensing of technologies that promise big, fast paybacks.

The report — written by Kauffman researchers Robert Litan, Lesa Mitchell and E.J. Reedy — argues that universities should shift from a sole focus on that patent/licensing model, which seeks to maximize income, to a volume model. A volume model emphasizes the number of innovations that university research generates and the speed at which those innovations are commercialized.

The Report outlined four volume models as follows:

    • Free agency model: Faculty members have the power to choose a third party (or themselves) to negotiate license agreements for entrepreneurial activities, provided they return some portion of their profits to the university.
    • Regional alliances model: Multiple universities form a consortium that develops mechanisms for commercialization. Economies of scale allow for lower costs of the commercialization function overall, and the universities are able to share costs among multiple participants. This model may prove particularly attractive for smaller research universities, which may not have the volume to support a seasoned and highly able licensing and commercialization staff independently. 
    •  Internet-based model: Closely related to the regional alliance model, Internet-based approaches use the Web to facilitate commercialization. The iBridge Network, a program funded by the Kauffman Foundation that works with a consortium of universities, is an example of such a model.
    • Faculty loyalty model: This calls for universities to consider giving up their intellectual property rights, anticipating instead that loyal faculty will donate a portion of their commercialization proceeds back to the university.  

The argument raised is an interesting one–there is a good argument that the focus of universities should be on commercializing good research for the societal good rather than making as much money as possible with "home runs".  From a commercial perspective, "home runs" make good business sense, but universities take pride in their higher purpose and there is certainly a good argument that tech transfer policies should reflect this higher purpose. 








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