At the end of my series of posts about metrics for new (or newly reorganized) technology transfer offices (TTOs), I noted that TTOs should also develop a way to generate a report summarizing their portfolio for internal purposes (though extracts may be useful for reporting and marketing purposes as well). Indeed, most TTOs want to — or have to — respond to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the technology portfolio.
Frequently Asked Questions
Whether they are routine or ad hoc, these FAQs often come from key stakeholders and focus on TTO performance:
- Which/How many technologies have startups planned/launched?
As Laura Schoppe discussed, the startups question is currently one of the most frequent FAQs from a TTO’s stakeholders.
- What’s the likely commercial potential for each technology in the portfolio?
Knowing how many evaluated technologies were found to have high or medium-high potential gives stakeholders a sense of the overall potential of the portfolio and helps to set realistic expectations and strategically focus future efforts.
- Are the technologies with the highest potential getting the bulk of the resources?
I sure hope so!
- What is the status/progress of the various marketing efforts?
The answer to this question shows, for example, whether passively marketed technologies are listed on the TTO website (and other technology portals, such as the AUTM® Global Technology Portal) or that targeted prospects have been contacted.
- How many new/ongoing active licenses are there?
The answer to this and many related questions are useful not only for stakeholder FAQs but also for AUTM’s annual licensing survey.
- What success stories do you have? How many startups are still in business?
These long-term outcomes are as important as the new deals.
As the F in FAQ suggests, these questions are asked frequently. Yet if a TTO frequently is scrambling to answer and struggles to generate the needed reports, then this indicates something is amiss. The TTO’s database for managing intellectual property (IP) as well as office procedures can — and should — be structured in such a way that the information needed to obtain answers to the above FAQs is accessible quickly and easily.
Effective IP Management Databases
An effective IP management database can generate a report that:
- Summarizes the portfolio in a list that includes technology titles, related patents and their status, etc.
- Indicates whether technology evaluation has been completed (and, if it has, includes a brief technology overview of what it is/does and its benefits and applications)
- Lists each evaluated technology’s commercialization rating
- Summarizes the plan (and its current status) for each technology that’s being moved forward
This information is useful for more than just internal stakeholders. In addition to helping you answer the AUTM survey more easily each year, a robust IP management database with good reporting functionality makes it easy to generate:
- An annual report such as those published by the University of California system – Take a look at the samples of program-specific reports Fuentek has prepared for clients
- An infographic such as this one from Emory University
- Online information about, for example, economic impact
Of course, the structure and reporting functionality of the IP management database is only part of the solution. The information must be collected — and entered into the database — naturally as part of day-to-day operations. When you combine a well-structured database with the procedures to populate it, a variety of meaningful and useful reports can be easily created.
How to Select/Develop a Powerful IP Information Management System
Having helped several clients select or develop powerful knowledge/information management systems, Fuentek has some suggestions on how to get started:
1. Take a Step Back
Think about the types of queries you need to answer frequently.
2. Look at What You Have
If you’re using spreadsheets to track everything, it might be time to invest in a more powerful system. If you already have a database-driven system, is it structured to store the information in such a way as to ease reporting?
- If it is a well-structured system yet answering FAQs is a challenge, the problem may be that data are not being routinely collected and input as part of routine daily operations. Current operational procedures may need to be tweaked and/or more clearly communicated to staff.
- If your current database is not structured appropriately, then…
3. Look at What’s Out There
Request demos of commercially available IP management systems to compare them to what you currently have. It can be very hard to let go of a system you’ve invested in. (Fuentek knows about this first hand, as discussed in The New Small by Phil Simon.) But technology changes so fast that the costs of switching to a new system may be far outweighed by the resulting improvements in functionality and productivity.
If producing the answers to FAQs a time-consuming process for your TTO — which can be a drain on resources that should be used to achieve the organization’s goals more directly — then it’s time to revisit your IP management database and decide on the best solution for dealing with it. Helping TTOs make and implement these decisions is part of what we do at Fuentek, so feel free to contact me to discuss how we can help.