Fuentek's Tech Transfer Blog

Worth Reading (and Wearing) for Halloween

Today we have a special Halloween edition of our monthly “Worth Reading” post. In addition to our usual supply of news items and blogs related to technology transfer, Fuentek is spotlighting costumes related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics and professions. Consider them for your kids (or yourself!) next year.

1. Student-Run Consulting Group Offers More Than Traditional Interns for Washington U’s OTM: This post, which summarized an in-depth article from the October issue of the Technology Transfer Tactics newsletter, profiled a variation on the traditional model of using interns to enhance a tech transfer office’s (TTO’s) productivity (something we’ve blogged about extensively). The BALSA Group is an independent non-profit consulting group of volunteer grad students and post-docs specializing in biotechnology and life sciences that provides Washington University and other clients with screening-level evaluations of technologies. Although using a student-based consulting group is not any less expensive than relying on professional staff or consultants for screenings, this model has win-win written all over it:

  • Grad and post-doc students get real-world experience — not only in tech transfer and how to make decisions with limited information, but also in running the business of BALSA — within a structure that matches the limited availability of their school schedules as well as their skill set and expertise.
  • The university’s TTO gets technology evaluators whose knowledge is matched to the innovation, and it positively contributes to the next generation of tech transfer professionals (while promoting an entrepreneurial culture) without the burden of having to do in-house hiring, training, and mentoring.

It sounded like the TTO at Washington University worked collaboratively with the BALSA Group in the consultancy’s early days, and I think that’s a good idea. Doing so allows the TTO to identify best practices, processes for screening, or good webinars or other training materials that help ensure the student consulting group meets the office’s needs and requirements.

If any of our readers are student entrepreneurs thinking of establishing such a consulting group, I’d point out two additional items to keep in mind:

  • Depending on the innovations your consulting group gets and the personnel on your team, there might be conflicts of interest. For example, a consultant might be asked to evaluate a technology from her own (or a “competing”) faculty member. Be sure to think about how you’ll handle those situations before they come up.
  • The article didn’t describe the BALSA Group’s plans for sustaining the management portion of the model beyond the current student leaders. Surely, the folks at BALSA can provide some insights there, but you also might look at the Duke Start-up Challenge. This business plan competition has been entirely student run since its founding in the 1999-2000 academic year, and they have an excellent model for creating and mentoring their organizing committee and co-presidents.

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2. The Seeds That Federal Money Can Plant: This story from The New York Times does an excellent job of explaining the impact that sequestration would have in terms of cutting R&D funding — by about $12 billion in 2013 — and closing up the innovation pipeline, which has an impact on economic development and would be counterproductive to generating tax revenue. (Of course, as a government contractor, Fuentek also would face a direct hit from the mandatory budget cuts, as I discussed with an Associated Press reporter.) For more about this and other issues that Washington has to deal with in the next several months, check out the great summary by BIO, which the Indiana Health Industry Forum posted on its advocacy page. Some of it is scarier than a Halloween ghoul!

3. What the NY Times Doesn’t Understand about the Patent System: Now that I’ve complimented the Times, I must admit that I agree with much of the criticism that IPWatchdog’s Gene Quinn leveled at the daily’s reporting on patent-related topics — in this case, the story “The Patent, Used as a Sword.” For several years now, I have observed that The New York Times seems to take a very one-sided approach when tackling stories related to intellectual property (IP). It often feels that the reporters latch onto one perspective and don’t really consider the broader issues at work or the implications that would result from what’s being advocated. I, for one, would appreciate seeing more balanced reporting coming out of The New York Times when it comes to IP and patent reporting.

4. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has issued its Plan for Accelerating Technology Transfer and Commercialization of Federal Research, which was prompted by President Obama’s October 28, 2011, tech transfer memorandum. As stated in the NIH plan:

Efficient transfer involves high quality disclosures, avoidance of unnecessary patent costs, high volume of licenses, timely licensing of valuable inventions, successful commercialization of inventions, and as a result, more products on the market to benefit public health, create jobs, and generate royalty income.

I couldn’t agree more, and I believe that the path to success is paved with rigorous market-based assessment of technologies to prioritize appropriately, patent effectively, and approach marketing strategically. Likewise, innovator training and feedback mechanisms — that is, helping innovators understand the market-based findings so they can apply them to future research efforts — goes a long way toward increasing the frequency with which high-quality invention disclosures are received. I look forward to seeing more such plans emerging from federal labs. Kudos to NIH for sharing theirs publicly!

And finally, some Halloween fun. We combed the Web looking for STEM-related costumes. We were pleased to see that the Space Foundation hosted a Halloween Ball last Saturday to raise money for its STEM education programs. Given the Space and Science Fiction theme, there was more than your average number of science-y costumes, including these two favs. (Quiz: Know what the one on the right is? Leave a comment below!)

Party-goers at The Science Foundation’s 2012 Halloween Ball (photos courtesy of the Science Foundation)

And here was something we saw on Los Alamos National Lab’s Twitter feed: the Mars Curiosity Rover!

Neatorama featured an excellent Carl Sagan costume in its 12 Best Geeky Costumes of 2012 (though some of us were also partial to the Serenity costume and the suggestion to go as Neil deGrasse Tyson). Then there were the two kids dressed as the MythBusters Adam and Jamie. And for those looking to dress up their pets rather than themselves or their children, check out’s list of 9 Halloween costumes for tech-obsessed dogs:

Finally, for those looking to break new ground, there were some excellent suggestions in a Two Peas in a Bucket message board post asking for STEM costume suggestions for elementary school students. Some of our favorites were:

  • “The four guys from Big Bang Theory. They’d be pretty easy to replicate as each has his own (bizarro) fashion sense and personality quirks.”
  • “The four bases found in DNA: adenine (abbreviated A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T).”
  • From someone who does these types of costumes every year: “Favorites have been Steve Jobs, an entomologist, a paleontologist, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein. We are currently working on how he can be Stephen Hawking this year.”
  • “Water cycle sections”

What are your STEM costume ideas?


Worth Reading