Technology Transfer: Alternative Revenue Streams When?

It’s a sobering bit of information:  85 percent of licensing and patent revenues is made by only 30 American research universities.  More than half of the universities who compete do not break even on revenues over costs.  And some of those generating sizable returns do so because of a single patented prescription drug.

Mark Crowell, Executive Director of UVA Innovation and Associate Vice President for Research, reported these results at the October 25, 2012, policy symposium in Washington DC convened by the Association for Women in Science (   His remarks and those of –

• Henry Etzkowitz, Senior Research Fellow at Stanford,

• Lila Feisee, Vice President for International Affairs of the Biotechnology Industry Organization;

• Mike Waring, Executive Director of Federal Relations, University of Michigan;

• Jim Woodell, Director of Innovation & Technology Policy, Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities;

brought home that developing and sustaining an entrepreneurial research enterprise that generates additional revenue streams for a university entails major changes in the culture and reward system.  Foremost among these, according to Crowell, is to simplify the ways by which investors and potential business partners are able to identify research projects that dovetail with their needs and interests.

But at the University of Virginia, change has also come to tenure and promotion policies in the school of medicine that effectively add a fourth “leg” to the traditional three-legged stool of teaching, research and service to reflect invention and innovation activities on a faculty member’s part.

In fact, Crowell has become the new CIO – Chief Innovation Officer – at UVA, where 150-200 inventions and ideas are vetted annually and 45-50 deals are executed.  What’s more, he is leading the effort to shift from a focus on patents to an emphasis on partnerships.

Research is not cheap and federal R&D funding is flattening out, so research universities will need to have energetic and innovative leadership of the technology transfer and commercialization efforts if new or alternative streams of revenue are to return to the institutions housing research.


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