5 Keys to Tech Transfer “Reboot” Success
I’ve blogged before about technology transfer offices (TTOs) that are entering a new phase of life. Today I’d like to share Fuentek’s recommendations for the top of your To-Do List for rebooting a TTO. These are based both on what we’ve done for our clients and on my personal experience in the trenches at the Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) at the University of Texas at Dallas.
1. Assets: Review the Whole Legacy Portfolio
If you inherit a portfolio of assets, it’s important to review and prioritize not only the invention disclosures and patents but also the status of marketing projects and the licenses and other agreements. Although some aspects will require more depth than others, reviewing the portfolio as a whole allows you to prioritize your resources effectively. The review of existing license agreements is particularly important. For example:
- Fuentek worked with a client who “inherited” a system that had not been well maintained and they didn’t know where things stood with many licenses. An audit revealed they had well over $1 million in unpaid royalties.
- When I started at UT Dallas, our review of the legacy portfolio revealed several “dead” licenses, where the licensee company had folded, thereby freeing up the IP for another prospect.
Once you know what you have, then you can make an informed, strategic decision about what to do with it.
2. Responsibilities and Policies: Understand Your Scope
Before you can establish/streamline processes and procedures, it’s important to map out exactly what activities your office is responsible for, and how it will interface with other organizations. It’s also crucial to make sure you’re clear about what policies guide/govern your office and identify any policy changes you should advocate to better support the institution’s overall goals.
And be sure to communicate these responsibilities and policies to your staff, because they will have to answer researcher and prospect questions related to these policies weekly, if not daily. Which brings me to…
3. Staff: Proactively Manage Change with the Old, Train the New
Communicating proactively with the TTO staff is absolutely essential to the success of your new office. To be efficient and effective, staff need to understand:
- What the office’s goals are, especially if those goals have changed
- What the responsibilities and expectations are, both of the office as a whole and of themselves as individual staff members
- What they have the authority to do independently and when they need to seek approval
- What constraints they are operating under and how to make appropriate decisions within those constraints
- What procedures need to be followed (You don’t want an inventor talking today to one staff member who says “We never do X” and then a week later hear a different story from a different staff member.)
4. Researchers: Change the Culture
Let’s face it: Sometimes a new office has to overcome a past fraught with less-than-stellar performance. Since researcher involvement is key to your office’s success, you’ll need to tackle this with them head on.
Fuentek has blogged about this before. As for my own experience, when the OTC at UT Dallas was established, technology transfer had been the purview of the Office of Sponsored Projects. Because OSP’s primary focus was bringing in research dollars, managing the resulting IP was of secondary importance. The subsequent dropped balls caused some bad blood with several faculty and a bit of a reputation as being a “black hole.” So we in the newly established OTC spent a lot of time meeting with faculty and, more importantly, listening to them. Several had some legitimate complaints, which we were then able to use to improve the office.
When engaging with faculty, we suggest emphasizing:
- The administration’s new vision for the office
- The composition of the new staff and how their relevant background, experience, and past successes will help with future efforts
- What they can expect going forward, particularly regarding timeframes and receiving feedback and information (don’t overpromise!)
When we had these meetings at UT Dallas, it gave faculty the chance to have a positive interaction with the new OTC, which they in turn could share with their colleagues.
5. Administration: Set the Expectations
Does the administration expect the TTO to be a profit center? That’s challenging at most institutions, especially if they also expect you to drive regional economic growth. If the administration has these types of conflicting goals, then meet with them to:
- Educate them about the steps and timeframe associated with tech transfer — in fact, you might find our Road to Tech Transfer infographic useful
- Clarify what the TTO can do given the current constraints and resources
- Discuss which goals are most important
- Plan how to work collaboratively to execute programs that support the goals
Over the years, Fuentek has helped several clients communicate and strategize with their governing bodies. In this work, we have found that presentations on the tech transfer process, trends in R&D funding, and how the organization’s performance compares to others — coupled with discussions and brainstorming — help administrators clarify their vision for the program and plan strategic initiatives accordingly.
Of course, there is not a single, one-size-fits-all approach for how to go about implementing these five items. But however you proceed down your new office’s path, you’ll always want to:
- Be thoughtful about the totality of what you have
- Identify the available resources
- Prioritize according to where you can get the most bang for your buck
- Manage stakeholder expectations
It’s worth noting that these recommendations are applicable whether your TTO is brand new (perhaps spun out from another department, as UT Dallas’s was) or when the office is, ahem, perhaps in need of a reboot. BTW, we can help with either situation; send me a private message here to discuss how Fuentek can help your office achieve its goals.