How a Centralized Technology Transfer Office Helps Build Stronger Universities
[pullquote]I have provided an in-depth discussion of these ideas in this paper detailing best practices in centralization, coordination, and consolidation in university technology transfer offices. The paper is intended to benefit major research universities, but the practices are also applicable to federal laboratories and other large institutions.[/pullquote]
Universities can be a hotbed of innovation, and tech transfer offices (TTOs) are tasked with finding and spinning out the next big thing. They face several unavoidable challenges as they move academic researchers’ innovations, technologies, and other intellectual property into the commercial marketplace. But one challenge that many TTOs face can be avoided. It concerns the structure of the office.
After more than 15 years of working directly with tech transfer programs at major research universities and other large institutions in the U.S. and abroad, we at Fuentek have learned that centralization, coordination, and even consolidation of TTOs can go a long way toward making commercialization of university innovations more effective.
Before you read any further, let me just say: I am not advocating that universities eliminate campus-based TTOs. It is absolutely essential that on-campus tech transfer offices exist. Tech transfer programs need on-site technology managers (TMs) to identify opportunities and inspire researchers to participate in technology transfer.
But our experience has shown that intra-campus centralization as well as cross-campus coordination and the consolidation of certain activities make the process more streamlined and efficient. More importantly, this structure helps ensure that resources are consistently directed at the innovations with the greatest potential for success. Therefore, we recommend that some (but not all!) technology transfer activities be consolidated within a single organization that serves all campuses.
Here are our recommendations for centralizing, coordinating, and consolidating technology transfer and the benefits you can expect to reap from these efforts. Details are provided in our new white paper, “Best Practices in Centralization, Coordination, and Consolidation in University Technology Transfer Offices.”
Centralizing Technology Managers in a Single Office
Rather than the decentralized, one-office-per-college/department model, we recommend bringing the TMs into a central office location on the campus. (Note: The term “college” in this case refers to multiple, discipline-focused colleges on a single university campus, as opposed to a college that is a stand-alone institution.) A key part of implementing this change is for the university’s leadership to clearly communicate to the colleges/departments on the campus that centralization of TMs, as well as the TTO as a whole, enables even higher levels of service to the faculty.
- TMs focus on tech transfer tasks rather than unrelated, college/department-specific tasks.
- Commercialization decisions are more likely to be based on market factors rather than internal pressures.
- TMs spend less time on administrative tasks.
- TMs can better share knowledge and cooperate with their tech transfer colleagues.
Coordinating Tech Transfer across Campuses
For multi-campus university systems, we recommend cross-campus coordination in three areas: standard technology management procedures, shared information technology (IT) systems, and a uniform structure for each TTO across campuses.
- Ensures clear communication across campuses
- Facilitates consistent decision making and performance evaluation
- Presents a unified image of tech transfer
- Maximizes operational and financial efficiencies
Consolidation across Campuses
Consolidating elements of a multi-campus university system’s technology transfer program into a single organization helps avoid duplication of effort and other inefficiencies. This organization can be structured in several ways:
- It can be a service-based organization that supports all campuses with certain activities (such as technology evaluation).
- It can have decision-making budgetary authority (selecting technologies for commercialization, implementing the marketing strategy, and negotiating agreements).
- It can be a separate, non-university, not-for-profit entity that is the assignee for the entire university intellectual property portfolio.
- Resources are more rapidly and easily distributed across campuses on an as-needed basis.
- Tech transfer activities and decisions can better serve the university as a whole.
As noted earlier, I have provided an in-depth discussion of these ideas in my paper detailing best practices in centralization, coordination, and consolidation in university technology transfer offices. The paper is intended to benefit major research universities, but the practices are also applicable to federal laboratories and other large institutions.
So, when it comes to TTOs at major university systems, a centralized, coordinated, and consolidated strategy allows technology managers to unearth the most promising new ideas and bring them to market as efficiently as possible.
If you’re interested in other guidance and recommendations, check out Fuentek’s insights for university and government TTOs or contact us to discuss how Fuentek can help your TTO.