Worth Reading: Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer Offices (and more on patent trolls)

Online reading of technology transfer newsThis month’s list of articles worth reading centers around the topic of entrepreneurship. In some cases, these are technology transfer offices (TTOs) fostering entrepreneurs. In some cases, TTOs are tapping into the expertise of entrepreneurs. And in some cases, the TTOs are being pretty entrepreneurial themselves! So let’s see what we’ve got.

Biotech U: Marrying academia and industry in Charlottesville is an article we came across thanks to AUTM® executive director Vicki Loise’s posting in the association’s discussion group on LinkedIn. The article, which features Mark Crowell who heads up the tech transfer program at the University of Virginia (UVA), discusses the ongoing impact of UVA’s intellectual property (IP) and tech transfer “retooling.” I think Joe Allen put it well when he commented in the discussion: “Great story and a perfect example how universities are free to overhaul their tech transfer systems any time they wish under the Bayh-Dole system to make them more entrepreneurial.”

Purdue’s Office of Technology Commercialization also made the news with an interview of OTC director Elizabeth Hart-Wells. The PU tech transfer chief: ‘Keep breathing innovative thinking into your OTC’ MedCity News Q&A discusses “several initiatives designed to encourage and expedite the transfer of new technologies to the public.” Hart-Wells cites these initiatives and other efforts as leading to Purdue University’s success at spinning out new companies and inking commercialization deals.

Technology Transfer Tactics highlighted Arizona State University’s AZ Furnace entrepreneurial development program for IP developed at the state’s research institutions, from innovations offered through Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE) (as ASU’s TTO is called) to those emerging from the Dignity Health Arizona system. Developed by ASU Venture Catalyst in partnership with AzTE, the Furnace is a startup accelerator that offers entrepreneurs packages that include seed funding as well as an intensive 6 months of mentoring, incubation space, and other support services. According to an ASU News article, ventures from across the nation and even around the world can compete for the funding and support packages, but “companies that are accepted into AZ Furnace must be based in Arizona as a stimulant to regional economic development and job creation.” Indeed, the program’s Web page says that the Furnace “will target ASU students, staff, and faculty.”

Speaking of mentoring, two universities are getting attention for their efforts to tap into area entrepreneurs as mentors for their TTOs. I came across the New mentors-in-residence give U-M startups a critical edge news release thanks to a tweet from @UMOTT. Established in 2008, the University of Michigan program seems to be thriving. I particularly enjoyed this tweet from @StephenFleming:

Being a Mentor-in-Residence is like crack for entrepreneurs” @wes_huffstutter talking about UMich mentors at #NBIAConference.

The University of Colorado’s (CU’s) @ColoradoTTO chimed in as well with a tweet pointing us to the Innovation Center of the Rockies (ICR), which “has a fantastic advisor pool [of business mentors] that self-selects for specific startups” involving university faculty and graduate researchers. The center had just two days before announced that Colorado State University had joined the ranks of CU and Colorado School of Mines as an ICR partner.

Another type of university-business collaboration is receiving support from the Canadian government in a program managed by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.  A news release titled Government of Canada Invests in High-Quality Jobs and Growth explained that “60 innovative partnerships between colleges and businesses will be provided more than $36 million over a period of up to five years through the College and Community Innovation (CCI) Program.” Focusing on research projects in the areas of information and communications technologies, environmental technologies, natural resources and energy, the CCI Program is designed to “support collaboration between Canadian colleges, universities and businesses to improve or extend existing company technology or commercial products.”

Finally (and tangentially), we’ve pointed to articles about patent trolls in previous “worth reading” posts, but we have a new one from the “It’s even worse than you think” department. In Slate.com’s The Troll Toll: How “patent assertion entities” stifle innovation, Columbia Business School professor Ray Fisman discusses a November 2011 white paper by MIT economist Catherine Tucker that examined how litigation by Acacia, “a large assertion entity with a reputation for litigating around its patent portfolio” (i.e., a patent troll), negatively impacted incremental product innovation for a medical imaging technology. I’m surely preaching to the choir here, but patent trolls are a blight on our industry. If you agree, then you’ll probably get great satisfaction out of this 7-minute TED talk by entrepreneur Drew Curtis on How I Beat a Patent Troll. (My favorite sound bite: “Don’t negotiate with terrorists.”)

What are your favorite tech transfer articles this month? Share them with a comment below or send me a private message.

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Posted by Laura Schoppe

3 Responses to Worth Reading: Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer Offices (and more on patent trolls)

  1. Although I recognize the inefficiency problem that the patent troll business model creates within the economy, nevertheless the NPE model is profitable, effective, and a legal exercise of IP rights. The problem is a systemic one; when NPEs win, on average, two to three times the damage awards that practicing entities reap from patent litigation, you can’t blame them for suing as much as possible.

    • Laura Schoppe says:

      Thanks for commenting and the link to the video. There’s a big difference between NPEs that pursue legitimate infringement cases and trolls that seek merely to extract (read: extort) payment by threatening to disrupt production using vaguely relevant patents. The latter, which are not legitimate infringement cases, are non-productive for our economy and the innovation ecosystem. Not only does the video obscure the existence of these troll organizations, but it also contradicts your statement about the damages. You say the damages for an NPE are 2-3 times greater than what a market participant usually receives (justifying their >>suing as much as possible<<), but the video says the damages awarded to NPEs are “a fraction of lost profits.” It’s a disingenuous video.

  2. Hemant says:

    Nobody will give up a patent that has proift potential when the product can be commercially placed into service. Your posting had the solution incorporated into its very text. THE LEGAL COSTS are the prohibiting factor. Do away with lawyers, and the problem will go away. Universities need to learn to partner with entrepreneurs to negotiate such deals, to share the risks and the upside in a better fashion. Sunk costs in product marketing need to be given a preferred tax treatment. Perhaps the National Academy of Sciences could be empowered to award or grant a window (two years, five years, etc) to such newly patented technologies/partnerships during which the revenue generated from the endeavor is not tax deductible. Or give them tax credits for any product which is utilized in a developing country or non-proift which serves those in need.