Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Commercialization Activities as Part of the Tenure Process for Academics

Rachel Abbey McCafferty has published an article in Crain's Cleveland Business titled, State is Pushing Universities to Bring Research to Market, on March 5, 2017.  The article outlines how the proposed Ohio state budget includes provisions concerning making commercialization activities by academics part of the tenure process.  The article notes how the purpose of the proposal is to direct academics to engage in research that may have a potential market.  This, of course, is one of the criticisms of the Bayh-Dole Act--that indeed the Act would push researchers toward directing research efforts to "real world" problems as opposed to "blue sky" research, which could have broad uses.  Some universities have unilaterally made the move to requiring commercialization activities for academics for tenure, but this is one of the first state "top down" directives for research institutions to require it.  Notably, the state is apparently striking a nice balance by stating that commercialization activities are just one route to be considered in the tenure process--it is not the only way to obtain tenure.  This nicely preserves flexibility for each researcher to make their own choices.  There is still the question of whether requiring commercialization efforts for tenure is necessary given the substantial market incentives available to researchers. 

The article also discusses a new institute to be formed in Ohio, which will direct commercialization activities in state institutions.  I am not very familiar with the technology transfer processes in Ohio, but this sounds like a good idea to coordinate commercialization efforts and provide accountability and stewardship for public research funding.  Notably, Governor Kasich, the recent presidential candidate, is reportedly a big fan of technology transfer, and its potential to create jobs and benefit the public.  (Hat tip to Technology Transfer Tactics for the lead to the article.)

1 comment:

Lawrence said...

The skillsets for running a commercial operation are different from that of a research and many govts in seeking a tangible ROI on their educational funding have set up translational research organisations. These specifically attempt to bridge the gap between academia and industry, whether in the form of cooperative research (consortium with targetted outcomes), one-stop IP bureaus or just applied R&D. History have shown certain problems persistently come up

a) govt bureacrats are notoriously poor at selecting "winners", whether choice of technology or actual firms ... the performance of Canadian unis v US is a good example

b) financing - seeking allocations is a poor way to finance ideas ... the exemplar here is Israel which instead set up co-investment funds with private equity

c) career mobility - a research often sees a commercial endeavour as academic exile whereas business souls don't like cash-poor bootstrapping. Let's face it, with kids and mortage, how many smart enthusiasts are willing to take risk on untried tech?

Thus on average it takes decades for a new tech to reach market. A coordinating institute has structural weaknesses ... fierce independence of individual unis (not to mention professional rivalries), sometimes weak incentives (not market-led) and is critically dependent on the people leading the commercialisating activities. Whether Ohio can overcome all the barriers to replicate say Taiwan science parks or Israel vibrant startup scene will be interesting to observe,