Prerequisites and First Steps When Creating a Tech Transfer Office
Last week I read an interesting article on Beyond the First World. Terry Young discussed four reasons for establishing a technology transfer office (TTO) at universities. Making money was not on that list, and I agree that TTOs (wherever they are) can’t and shouldn’t have “make a lot of money” as their main goal. If making money were the main goal, many a TTO not only would be disappointed when it inevitably failed to achieve this goal, but it would miss out on some strategic and other qualitative successes.
Terry also discussed what university TTOs need in order to be successful, and that list matched up with Fuentek’s experience as well. For example, we have found that the portfolio must contain technologies that have commercial applicability, otherwise why are resources being expended on it. The TTO must have the larger institution’s support—both budgetary and non-financial. And skilled professionals are needed on site to manage the innovations. (And I would add that it’s good to have a robust internship program that allow students to gain valuable skills while freeing up the TTO professionals to focus on marketing and licensing the high-potential technologies.)
So let’s say you have all that… now what? How do you get started doing the work of a proactive, efficient, and effective TTO? Here’s what Fuentek suggests:
2. Analyze your R&D investments to understand the challenges your institution faces.
Note: So, #1 is what you have and #2 is what you need. And these are important steps, regardless of whether you’re a university, a company, or a government lab so that you can leverage both sides of innovation. Now let’s get back to our list.
3. Conduct market research to identify who has what you need and who needs what you have—you’re looking for the intersection of technologies and needs.
4. Develop a project plan for pursuing collaborative partnerships and licenses with the organizations that show up on both lists—and where you’re most likely to have success that maximizes value to the institution. (The NASA Massively Multiplayer Online Game Moonbase Alpha is an example of this type of success.)
5. Secure internal buy-in from the key personnel involved in the specific opportunity. You need to have the buy-in of the inventors of innovations you’re trying to out-license as well as buy-in from researchers who are your “open innovation customers.” (It also helps if you have ongoing tech transfer training for your faculty and other inventors.)
This list is the blueprint for Symbiotic Innovation — that is, simultaneously looking for licensees of your patented and other intellectual property and for collaborators as you solve your R&D challenges.