From a business standpoint, turning university research into viable products is what it’s all about. There are numerous companies that have been spawned by technology transfer from local universities.
Technology transfer is a term used to describe the process of transferring scientific findings from one organization to another for the purpose of further development and commercialization. The process typically includes:
Academic institutions measure success in technology transfer in numerous ways. Numerical measures include the number of patents filed, license agreements executed, and new companies formed. Later numerical measures include revenues from license fees, royalties and cash from equity investments paid to the academic institutions, and the numbers of products successfully introduced to the market. Success is also measured by the impact the products have on our lives.
Other results of technology transfer include a university’s ability to retain entrepreneurial faculty, attract outstanding graduate students, contribute to the institutional reputation for innovation, add to its research program through interaction with the private sector, and increase its reputation for providing highly trained students for the industrial work force.
The benefits of having a technology transfer program are many. Academic technology transfer billions of dollars to the U.S. economy and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs. It contributes to the spawning of new businesses, creating new industries and opening new markets. Institutions gain recognition for discoveries made, comply with federal regulations, attract and retain talented faculty, and promote local economic development. The priority that is given to each of these factors varies from institution to institution. Most important, technology transfer from universities to the commercial sector has led to new products and services that improve our quality of life. From faster modems to new cancer treatments, academic technology transfer is advancing the way we live and work.
There are also benefits to industry and the public. To the industrial community, technology transfer gives the private, for-profit sector the opportunity to tap the significant world of discovery found in the academic laboratory. To the public at large, technology transfer provides the opportunity to benefit from new advances and may produce jobs.
Academic institutions have seen a significant increase in technology transfer activity. Before 1980, fewer than 250 patents were issued to U.S. universities. Discoveries were seldom commercialized. In FY 2002, 5,327 new license agreements were signed. This success and the resulting economic and health benefits, is the direct result of the passage of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act. This act enabled universities, nonprofit research institutions, and small businesses to own and patent inventions developed under federally funded research programs. Before the passage of this legislation, new discoveries resulting from federally sponsored research passed immediately into the public domain. The provisions of the act, however, provided an incentive for universities to protect their innovations.
When industries license technologies from universities, continuing partnerships will often help move new discoveries from the lab to the marketplace. Partnerships enable researchers who make initial discoveries to participate in further developments. Generally, the involvement of the original creators in the continued development of the technology will significantly reduce the time to actual commercialization.
Revenues realized as a result of licensing activities by academic institutions are shared with the creators of the technology. This is usually done according to a policy formula adopted by the individual institution. Revenues are also used to help advance scientific research and education through reinvestment in the academic enterprise. The revenues held by the university are typically distributed to university research departments to provide for matters such as graduate research assistants, new equipment, or funding for new or follow-on research activities. Universities also use revenues to help sustain the technology transfer process by paying for a portion of the patent and licensing legal fees and the marketing and management staff.
The maturing portfolio of thousands of license agreements is likely to yield several hundred new products in the coming years. An increase in the number of licensed products on the market is a predictor that the reported sales of licensed products, will also increase. Continued creation of new companies will continue stimulating preproduction investment in academic inventions.
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