The transfer of technology from academic institutions is an important part of the university environment, representing each institution's commitment to improving the public good by promoting the development of its intellectual property into usable products. The efforts have the collateral benefit of promoting economic growth through the creation of companies around academic technologies, job creation, and attendant economic multipliers.
Throughout the post-WWII era, research universities had sought to commercialize in-house innovations, but with the passage of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act by the American Congress, the effort accelerated dramatically. By assigning the default ownership of US government-funded research to the researcher, as opposed to the funding agency, the Bayh-Dole act elicited two simultaneous phenomena:
- A nationwide debate within the research community about the impact of technology transfer on the integrity of research and the free-flow of information. Many of these concerns were addressed through university policies, though the tension between the means of commercialization and the goals of academic research remain present today.
- At the same time, universities began to establish technology licensing offices (TLOs) in earnest. These were initially staffed with employees of the research administration departments, though these administrators did not have much experience with private industry or technology transfer.
Start dates for American TLOs
The American model, largely determined by the Bayh-Dole Act, is emulated around the world, but closer investigation suggests that this is not entirely effective. According to the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), US universities produce about 3000 US patents per year. These patents are licensed to outside firms to commercialize the innovations, and these transactions brought US universities $1.25 billion in 2006. However, on average, it takes about $2.5 million in research funding to produce one patent. These numbers are discouraging for many nations, both developed and developing, for they suggest an enormous investment, over and above the operational costs of running technology transfer offices, for participating in the global flow of technology transfer.
This observation begins to suggest that the model used in the US on the basis of inputs and outputs will not translate to the realities of research, inventions, patenting and licensing elsewhere, especially in developing countries. At present there does not seem to be an obvious, workable alternative to the US model, although the attached report suggests some Hypothetical Interventions that may prove influential.
These Hypothetical Interventions, which range from financial to organizational, are outlined in detail in the report available here and will serve as a starting point for working group discussions at the Technology Transfer Convocation. In addition, this report provides outlines of the varied positions of different technology transfer stakeholders, the human capital implications of technology transfer to developing countries, and an examination of the viability of a sustainable technology transfer business model.
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See also, the Code of Conduct that guides this discussion.