Invention disclosures are a technology transfer office’s (TTO’s) bread and butter. Therefore, TTO success depends in large part on having a productive relationship with your organization’s researchers.
Building a strong foundation with researchers is an ongoing process that happens before, during, and after they file their invention disclosures. Fuentek’s experience has shown that there are three areas where a TTO can focus these efforts:
- Educating researchers about their tech transfer opportunities and obligations
- Communicating effectively with researchers about their inventions
- Elevating the profile of tech transfer in your organization
First the Why, Then the How
Traditionally, training for innovators has focused on the nuts and bolts of tech transfer, such as how to fill out an invention disclosure. We have found, though, that a more “big picture” message sticks with them longer. This is particularly important when researchers are new to the organization and will be conducting research for several weeks (or even months) before they have an innovation to report.
Several TTOs have found our Road to Tech Transfer infographic helpful in explaining the big picture to researchers. Regardless, focus on what’s in it for them and what their role will be. Also, teach them about keeping the market in mind as they’re innovating. This helps them not only to know when to submit the invention disclosure but also to submit better ones.
When researchers need training on how to report their invention, we recommend doing a one-on-one session. Sitting down with them gives you a chance to answer all their questions and help them fill out the disclosure form.
Augment with Online Resources
The in-person sessions can be augmented with short webcasts that cover various aspects of tech transfer. You can break down a longer online training into smaller chunks that deal with one concept at a time. Remember: A short piece of useful information on a single topic is more likely to catch — and hold — innovators’ attention than a longer one.
For example, Fuentek derived a 3.5-minute webcast on understanding and explaining a technology’s commercial potential from our 45-minute Pitching for Innovators webinar. This short video helps researchers understand that being able to get a patent doesn’t necessarily mean that the market wants/needs the technology and learn how to begin to identify whether an invention fits the market.
This type of just-in-time learning (or refresher) tool can be part of the TTO’s website. Or you might want to have a stand-alone online resource for innovators, like the site we developed for NASA.
Communicate Effectively About Their Invention
Cultivating a positive relationship with innovators does not come from saying “yes” to everyone who wants a patent. It comes from effective communication, even when you have to say “no.” That means:
- Explaining the criteria for technology evaluation
- Being transparent about the TTO’s decisions
- Providing feedback in a timely manner
Quite frankly, communication is as important as process when it comes to researcher relations. An example of this is when Fuentek helped a university client clear out a backlogged IP portfolio. A key element was communicating with the faculty early on.
Before disseminating any technology evaluation repots, we helped the TTO explain to researchers what was going on and why it was happening. We told inventors up front that some would get good news about their technologies while others would not… but they would be given a reason for the decision.
This communications strategy paid off. Because of these efforts, faculty were not surprised when the technology screenings were delivered. There were few if any complaints, even though only about one-third of the inventions had enough potential to continue to the next phase of commercialization. We had anticipated a 2-year schedule for securing faculty buy-in. In fact, within 6 months, they were all on board.
You can read more about this case study here.
Elevate Tech Transfer’s Profile
Of course, one of the most important aspects of researcher relations is making sure they know you’re there! In helping clients spread the word about the tech transfer program, we have found a variety of communication tools to be useful.
Innovator Recognition Efforts
The researchers already working with you are a great outlet for word-of-mouth advertising. So, feature them at an event hosted by the TTO and/or piggyback on other high-profile events. For example, some universities announce patent awards during halftime or time outs at basketball games.
And innovator recognition doesn’t have to be an event. You could place posters on campus or table tents in the cafeterias. And you can work with the public affairs/relations office to issue a press release about an innovator’s success in tech transfer.
Publish a quarterly TTO newsletter distributed to researchers or others you want involved in the tech transfer or other program. It can be a printed piece, like this one we did for the TTO at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Or it can be an email blast like these for NASA’s Flight Opportunities program.
Also, consider leveraging the other publications distributed to the researcher community. Contact the editors to place articles or “advertisements” in the campus magazine.
Giving researchers a chance to discuss their research via poster sessions at an internal event provides an excellent opportunity to “preach the tech transfer gospel” and identify technologies that were ready for reporting. Check out this blog post about our experience with such an event at a NASA center.
Look to the Experts
Fuentek has supported clients with our innovator training services as well as our services related to communications. If your TTO could use help in enhancing engagement with researchers, contact Fuentek today.