Fuentek's Tech Transfer Blog

Keep Your Eyes Wide Open When Offered a “Free” Service

As I monitor the technology transfer profession via industry newsletters and blogs, a frequently recurring theme is technology transfer offices seeking to keep their costs down by making use of “free” sources of service. It might be internship programs at universities, the federal government considering no-cost patent marketing services (check out our white paper on this topic), or the Texas Tech example discussed in the recent issue of Technology Transfer Tactics, which described the university’s arrangement with a consulting firm that provides a free assessment of technologies’ commercial potential.

These all sound like good deals for technology transfer offices (TTOs). And they can be. But there’s a reason the phrases “You get what you pay for” and “Caveat emptor” have become clichés.

TTOs should proceed with caution in such “free” service arrangements.

In the Texas Tech example, technologies receive a no-cost rating that the university’s TTO uses for guidance about whether to form a start-up. According to Tactics’s blog, “Once a technology receives a thumbs-up, the university licenses the technology to a start-up while [the consulting firm] puts a management team in place and begins to raise money for a serious commercialization effort.”

TTOs that are considering following Texas Tech’s lead with this type of arrangement should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Will we confirm for those techs that do receive a high rating that a start-up—rather than (or in addition to) licensing to an established company—is really the best way to go?
  • Will we confirm that those techs that do not receive a high rating do not have opportunities for other value (e.g., humanitarian impact) or other commercialization options (e.g., collaborative R&D) before abandoning them?


© 2006 Fuentek, LLC

Note: This notion of confirming a recommendation or strategy before moving forward is covered in a paper I presented 4 years ago at the International Astronautical Congress. Check out Section 1.1 of this paper.

I’m all in favor of a bargain. And I know TTOs constantly face the challenge of having to do more work with fewer resources. But just make sure your arrangements for free services are structured to serve your organization’s interests and that you confirm the recommendation. It should reflect the fit of the technology to the entire market and not just the interests of the organization providing the free service.

–By Laura A. Schoppe