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AUTM Task Force Reveals Near-Term, Future Changes to Annual Licensing Activity Survey

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Dana Bostrom
Director of innovation and industry alliances
Portland State University
 Assistant Vice President of Metrics
AUTM
NAME: Dana Bostrom, director of innovation and industry alliances, Portland State University in Oregon; assistant vice president of metrics and outgoing vice president of metrics, Association of University Technology Managers
 
BACKGROUND: Various tech-transfer officer positions at the University of California, Berkeley; and the University of Washington
 
Over the last year and a half, the Association of University Technology Managers, with the support of organizations such as the Kauffman Foundation, National Governors Association, and American Association of Universities, convened a task force to investigate new ways to measure the success of its member universities and non-profit research institutes.
 
One of the results of the task force was the AUTM Better World project, a yearly publication designed to disseminate anecdotal tech-transfer success stories to the general public.
 
In addition, last December, around the time that AUTM was releasing its annual licensing activity survey results for 2006, the alliance was putting the final touches on a report that outlined new survey questions for 2007 and alternative metrics that could better convey the role and impact of tech-transfer offices at academic institutions.
 
Last week, at AUTM’s annual meeting in San Diego, the three primary members of the AUTM task force – outgoing vice president of metrics Dana Bostrom, current vice president of metrics Kevin Cullen, and Angus Livingstone, board member for the Alliance for Commercialization of Canadian Technologies – revealed their findings.
 
Then group recapped much of what had been published in a July interim report, and previewed the contents of the group’s final report, which is expected to be available on the AUTM website later this month.
 
Cullen, who is also director of research and enterprise at the University of Glasgow; and Livingstone, who is managing director of the University-Industry Liaison Office at the University of British Columbia, also discussed pilot projects at their respective institutions designed to provide a different look at numbers to measure tech-transfer success – something that AUTM is urging member institutions to do with more frequency to supplement its metrics work.
 
Following the AUTM meeting, BTW caught up with Bostrom to discuss what changes are planned for the AUTM licensing survey this year and beyond.
 

 
What were the results of the AUTM board task force on metrics that concluded in November?
 
The task force was meant to be higher level, to address what the right and wrong directions to go were, and how we could change AUTM metrics or work with other parties to provide a more complete picture of academic technology transfer.
 
The task force completed on AUTM’s side in November after we had identified the next three years of activity, and what changes we were going to make to better communicate what we were doing.
 
We posted an interim report from the new metrics task force on the AUTM website in August. That report was much longer than the final report, which I just sent off to AUTM headquarters this week. The final report updates a few more of the activities and talks a bit about the surveys that we’re going to be doing, which I mentioned in the presentation at the AUTM meeting.
 
Will the final report be published soon?
 
Yes. The interim report is about five pages and goes through a lot of our findings and activities over the early part of last year, but this new report just identifies the newest activities between August and November. In October we talked with another group of policy makers, had another advisory board meeting, and then met with the senior research officers from universities across the country. As a result, we decided we would do these two new surveys: the transactional survey and the scope/resources/structure survey. [According to AUTM, the final report will likely be available on its website later this month – Ed.]
 
What will be the focus of these new surveys?
 
The annual licensing activity survey often has folks walking away thinking that all universities are the same because we have them all lined up in a chart, and you can just go down the line and say, ‘Wow, this university has five full-time employees, this one has eight, this one has two, so this explains why one is different from another.’ But we don’t have information on what those employees actually do. Is the office responsible just for licensing out IP, or is it also responsible for licensing trademarks, doing [material transfer agreements], or doing industry research agreements, as well? That’s the scope part of the survey, to figure out what the office is supposed to be doing or is assigned to do.
 
The resources part is pretty self explanatory. What resources does an office have, both in terms of budget, and in terms of other resources such as whether it has a venture fund, an incubator, et cetera? And structure [refers to] where in an institution one reports. That [scope/resources/structure] survey is designed to give the reader context for the annual licensing data, to help him better compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges.
 
What about the transactional survey?
 
The transactional is trying to look at things like: What are the other kinds of agreements and activities that the offices are engaged in that the licensing activity survey doesn’t report? We know that a lot of offices deal with inter-institutional agreements, which is managing rights between co-owners of technologies. Also, there are material transfer agreements, sponsored research agreements and the like. When I was at the University of Washington, we even dealt with some wills.
 
That’s another thing that we think is misleading about the licensing activity survey, is that it implies to folks that if this is all that we do, why do we not do more? There is actually a lot more that is going on, and this will tell a bigger story about what has to happen to enable the results that we see. AUTM will look carefully at how we provide information from these new surveys, though. We may not publish reports in a fashion similar to the familiar annual licensing activity survey.
 
You mentioned that you are also expanding AUTM’s Statistics Access for Tech Transfer, or STATT, program?
 
STATT allows users to search AUTM’s licensing data by particular criteria that interest them. That again is designed to help people compare apples with apples, at least using the existing survey data. Currently STATT hosts 20 variables from the annual licensing activity survey, but we plan to make more of the variables available through this mechanism. Access to STATT is free to AUTM members. With additional variables and the new surveys, we hope there will be even better context to the data that we already have.
 
I hope that at some point we look at how we can create reports that try to incorporate a lot of these new variables, or to provide broader access to that data so it will help provide that context. I’m not really sure what that will be or when that will happen, because these two new surveys are really in the very early planning stages.
 
Are any of these new initiatives going to make it into this year’s AUTM licensing survey?
 
This year’s annual licensing survey will still be the standard survey, because it has to start in May. We release that survey instrument in about 10 weeks. In order to get that going, we can only make some minimal changes to the survey.
 
As the transactional survey comes along, we’ll take another look at the annual licensing activity survey to see what we can move in and out of these instruments. The annual survey is designed for some sort of public consumption, while the transactional survey is information that is probably of greater interest to practitioners that are trying to compare the workload issue. I don’t know that external folks will be interested in that data. I suspect that this is kind of a hybrid we might get to, but again, that will have to be a decision made in the future after we see how useful these new surveys are. We don’t want to survey our own members to death.
 
What are some of the minor changes for this year’s survey?
 
We’re going to try and look at the definition of startups. Our definition of startups is currently that a company has to have a license to your technology, and that license has to be core to that company. We know that there are other relationships we have with startups, so we’re going to ask a second question that tries to ask about these other startups that are still affiliated with your university’s tech-transfer office, but not necessarily through a core license.
 
We’re also going to start asking about types of disclosures. There are a lot of folks who want to know in more detail whether you have physical sciences disclosures, biotechnology disclosures, et cetera, so we’re going to look at how we break these things up into categories.
 
The other thing I really want to try and get to are how many technologies were actually transferred, as opposed to agreements that were signed. So we’re going to try and see if we can get folks to tell us, for instance, if one agreement includes five technologies – that’s still important to know.
 
And the only other thing we’re going to try to do this year – and this one I’m not sure we’ll get to – is if you think in terms of gross and net income, trying to look at gross and net disclosures. We report a disclosure number, which are all the disclosures an institution receives. But not all of those disclosures have things you can actually do with them. For some of them you can’t file a patent because the prior art precludes you. Or, you can’t take ownership because the copyright has been spread between too many people and you cannot collect the rights. One issue we’re interested in trying to get at is whether we can assess how many disclosures a tech-transfer office can do something with, as opposed to how many just get through the door. That may be a difficult concept to get to in the next three weeks, which is our timeline for finishing up any changes to the survey.
 
These were all a result of a working group meeting at the AUTM conference with the folks who are going to lead the US and Canadian licensing activity survey, and we kind of parsed out tasks.
 
On a broader scale, at AUTM you talked about how to better collect information describing how licensing deals get translated into products or services. Is that beyond the scope of AUTM, and if so, do you think you will collaborate with people on those types of metrics?
 
AUTM is looking at collaborations with a variety of groups. On the MTA survey, we’re working with the Association of American Medical Colleges, so that when we get some initial data about how many MTAs we have, and what the problems are with the transaction time, AAMC can follow up and delve into that further, and maybe do some interviews to try and help improve things.
 
On the annual survey side, AUTM is going to take more proactive steps to provide greater context within its own report, so that when we report that startup numbers went up or down this year, we can reference, for example, venture capital numbers.
 
In terms of what companies are doing with our licensed technologies, I don’t know that AUTM is tackling that problem in the near future. We haven’t found many organizations to partner with in that area. We have a relationship with the Technology Transfer Society, which is a group of academics that studies tech transfer. We also hope to soon talk with the State Science and Technology Institute – which was suggested by an audience member at the presentation – about how some of this links to economic impact, which is in SSTI’s interest. We are also working with the Association of American Universities to perhaps provide some greater resources to the senior research officers at universities that help explain what the total impact of research is as opposed to just what tech transfer does with research. So we are exploring some partnership options.
 
You also mentioned that the National Science Foundation and perhaps the US Department of Commerce might get involved in tech-transfer metrics.
 
The Department of Commerce brought together a task force and has issued a final report, but most of their recommendations were about financial accounting for innovation, so you can get a better insight into how much innovation activity is occurring inside the US. Very few of their recommendations would directly impact universities, and even fewer would specifically impact tech-transfer offices. There wasn’t a lot that was relevant specifically to us, but it certainly was to the larger economy.
[The study, entitled “Innovation Measurement: Tracking the State of Innovation in the American Economy,” can be viewed here.]
 
The NSF has a new grant program, called the Science of Science and Innovation Policy, in which they are trying to figure out how we can form better policies to help out the innovation economy. They have a second call for proposals out right now, and that closes on March 18. AUTM had hoped to put in a grant proposal that looked at the social impact of innovation, instead of the economic or financial impact. But we decided over this last weekend that we don’t have enough time to put that together by March 18. We will eventually put the grant application together, however, with academic partners, and try to get others to fund it, because that’s an important missing piece of the puzzle.
 
Did the AUTM meeting supply any new ideas about improving metrics that the organization might take under consideration?
 
I jotted some notes down, but haven’t put them all together yet. I’m very much focused right now on the near term and getting this annual survey out. I think that in the future we’ll have to look at some other suggestions and comments.
 
I didn’t hear a lot of concern when I talked to members about these new surveys, which I think is good because AUTM members get surveyed all the time – by academics as well as AUTM. I was afraid I might have people express concern about them. I think the fact that I didn’t have anyone complain, and that we had a full room of 60 people, is a sign that maybe they’re ready to see that this kind of information is needed.

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