Wednesday 22 November 2017

Evolution and Survival: Technology Transfer Offices

The Association of Land Grant and Public Universities has released a November 2017 report titled, “Technology Transfer Evolution: Driving Economic Prosperity”.  The report identifies numerous opportunities for technology transfer offices as the system matures.  Importantly, technology transfer offices should focus on general regional economic development.  In reviewing opportunities and providing examples of successful programs, the report also highlights obstacles.  In particular, the report examines, “Redefining Expectations of Technology Transfer Offices,” and identifies obstacles to a successful, revisioned technology transfer office that serves to promote local and regional economic prosperity.  The Report states:

• Many senior administrators, faculty, trustees, and alumni are primarily focused on the revenue generation potential of technology transfer operations and less on the societal benefits that can be reaped by moving intellectual property of all kinds into the marketplace, even those that may not result in immediate, high revenue returns.  

• For many institutions, economic development and engagement as a central mission component is new and has led to confusion regarding the roles and responsibilities of individuals and units involved, including technology transfer offices and related professionals. New outreach duties often require coordination across multiple campuses, schools, departments and units, which makes collaboration and reporting a challenge. Many technology transfer offices lack the adequate staff, training, or resources necessary to meet the evolving expectations placed on them in the context of economic engagement.  

• Institutions sometimes face difficulty in giving credit where credit is due, for instance, when technology transfer offices are sharing partnership development responsibilities with other units. On many campuses, technology transfer offices used to be the main externally facing office for the university in the realm of business and industry. This is often no longer the case, and the new reality requires a level of coordination that is not typical practice. Moreover, reporting lines and measures of success are not consistent across different kinds of university offices, and it becomes very difficult to execute strategic, campus-wide partnerships involving external audiences.

I’ve previously written on redefining goals of technology transfer offices, here.  In redefining technology transfer offices, I would focus on their role in promoting the education of students within the university.  It is important to remember that the primary method of university knowledge transfer is teacher to student--for sure, patents are important, but let's keep our eye on the ball.  The technology transfer office, in collaboration with faculty, can play an important role in providing valuable experiential opportunities to students--leading to potential employment opportunities.  This places technology transfer offices squarely within the "core" mission (and "business") of the university and fits them nicely with partnerships in academic units that run business clinics, for example.  It may even lead to fundraising.  

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