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Tech-Transfer Shops Fixated on IP Homeruns May Limit Commercialization, Report Says

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — Technology-transfer offices that focus on a small number of big-ticket patenting and licensing deals are actually impeding the progress of overall technology commercialization, according to a report released last week by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
The report recommends that universities and non-profit research institutions should instead adopt a model that supports a larger number of inventions that may not have as big of a payoff, and suggests several ways such a model could be implemented.
The report, entitled “Commercializing University Innovations: A Better Way,” was funded by the National Bureau of Economic Research, and authored by Robert Litan, vice president for research and policy at the foundation; Lesa Mitchell, vice president for advancing innovation; and EJ Reedy, senior research analyst.
It suggests four models that universities should consider to increase their innovation: Allow faculty members to negotiate license agreements themselves but return some profits to the university; form regional alliances between multiple universities that may allow cost sharing; use the web more to facilitate commercialization; and embrace a “faculty loyalty” model in which universities would give up IP rights to faculty with the hope that they would donate a portion of their commercialization proceeds back to the school.
Some university tech-transfer managers disagree with the premise of the report.
Katharine Ku, director of the Office of Technology Licensing at Stanford University, said universities currently do employ a “volume-based” model. “The AUTM survey always essentially asks, ‘How many deals have you concluded?’” Ku in an e-mail last week to Biotech Transfer Week, a GenomeWeb Daily News sister publication.
“And at Stanford, for sure, we always say [that] ‘success is planting as many seeds as possible.’ Unfortunately, the media tends to write stories about money and number of patents.”
The director of technology transfer at a prominent East Coast research university, who requested anonymity to avoid conflict between the university and the “very powerful but very misguided” Kauffman Foundation, agreed.
“It’s like investing,” the director said. “You have so much money that you’re going to invest for your retirement. Would you put it all into one stock? You don’t know how to pick a winner. That’s the same way we do tech transfer.”
The full report from the Kauffman Foundation can be seen here.

The complete version of this article appears in the current issue of Biotech Transfer News, a GenomeWeb Daily News sister publication.

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