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Title: Technology Transfer in Research Universities
Author: Jerry G. Thursby
Published: 2003
Publication: Assistive Technology Transfer Update: Vol. 5 (Spring) Annual Report, 2001-2002

Universities pursue a tripartite mission of scholarly research, student education, and community service. As recipients of most Federal grants, university faculty members perform research that achieves the university's mission and generates revenues for the institution. The technology transfer legislation that enabled Federal agencies and Labs to pursue projects with commercial objectives, similarly enabled universities and their faculty. In practice, technology transfer in universities is similar to that in Federal Labs. University programs tend to be the "supply push" model, where Technology Transfer Offices receive faculty invention disclosures, perform their due diligence on intellectual property issues, and then catalog these disclosures for brokering to potential partners. They actively market those inventions deemed to have the highest market potential, and passively offer the rest.

As in Federal Labs, university expectations have outpaced the outcomes of technology transfer programs. Most licensing revenue comes from a small percentage of licensed technologies, with a smaller percentage generating revenues in excess of expenses. Why? The majority of companies that do license technologies, don't use universities, because the research is considered too early stage for commercial exploitation or not directly relevant to their core business needs. University data collected by Dr. Jerry Thursby, Professor at Emory University, validates this perspective. His research shows that nearly half (45%) of technology licenses are for "proof of concept" stage, more than one third (37%) are for "prototype available" stage, and only about one in ten (12%) are at the "ready for practical use" stage. Nearly half of companies surveyed think university-based technologies have a higher failure rate than those licensed from other sources.

University technology transfer issues are:

  • Defining the institution's role and focus in
    technology-based innovations.

  • Maintaining academic independence while affiliating with corporate interests;

  • Balancing faculty involvement in commercial endeavors with their university responsibilities;

  • Reconciling a low yield from an internal supply of early stage technologies, with high institutional and State government expectations;

  • Developing the knowledge base underlying technology transfer as a discipline.

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