Technology transfer brings “more than money” to universities and communities

Friday, Jun 27, 2014

The benefits of technology transfer go far beyond financial rewards to include job creation and improved quality of life, according to a review article co-written by a group of leading technology transfer officers from major research universities, including Princeton University.

John Ritter, director of Princeton University's Office of Technology Licensing"We wanted to look at the benefits that arise from the licensing and commercialization of inventions from university research labs," said John Ritter, director of Princeton's Office of Technology Licensing. "We found that there are numerous tangible and intangible benefits for universities but also for the public, ranging from new economic opportunities to new products that improve lives."

The article examines the impact of a 1980 federal law that makes university technologies available for commercialization by the private sector, and looks at the resulting changes for universities and the public. The article appears in the current issue of Technology and Innovation.

Among the benefits are:

  • A vibrant culture of entrepreneurship that promotes recruitment and retention of faculty who reap the rewards of innovation and the practical application of their research
  • Increased student success through participation in real world research, exposure to the patenting process, and increased job prospects
  • Public benefits from applied research that seeks to address global challenges around health, the environment, technology and our changing societies
  • Economic development, with licensing revenue that boosts the economy, better retention of local talent, and new high-skill, high-wage jobs from university start-ups
  • Increased opportunities for funding through inter-institutional and interdisciplinary grants, new start-ups and international research relationships
  • Increased prestige and fundraising from a stronger university brand, and donor ties deepened through relationships with start-ups.

“In the academic setting, technology transfer is a critical component for facilitating and sparking innovation within universities and helping to connect universities with commercial partners in the community,” says co-author Paul R. Sanberg, president of the National Academy of Inventors. “Technology transfer can be truly transformational to a university and to the community.”

For example, data gathered from 82 institutions responding to a survey conducted by the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) reports that in 2012 $36.8 billion in net sales were generated by startup companies from 70 institutions that provided fulltime employment for 15,741 people. Additionally, 705 new companies were created based on university patented inventions and 591 new commercial products were launched for consumer use in 2012.

“Technology transfer describes the process of transferring scientific findings from one organization to another for the purpose of further development and commercialization,” explains lead author Valerie Landrio McDevitt, former associate vice president for technology transfer and business incubation at the University of South Florida (USF) and current executive director of AUTM.

“Strong and supported technology transfer programs, the availability of funding from seed through venture capital, serial entrepreneurs, administrative support, and community engagement all become critical components affecting the success of technology transfer, and the best opportunity for reaping the benefits of technology transfer arises when all of the necessary components come together and are supported,” said McDevitt.

Technology transfer in the past 35 years has transformed not only universities, but also transformed American society and the world beyond; the benefits are all around us, say the authors, and the increases in university-based patents and licensing, often to small startup companies, continues.       

“Having an active academic technology transfer program benefits individuals within the university community,” said Sanberg, who is also senior vice president for research and innovation at the University of South Florida.  “The NAI felt this paper was important because we are dedicated to supporting the patenting and research efforts of faculty, and wanted to make sure that the impact of those efforts was understood, beyond the bottom line.”

In addition to Ritter, McDevitt and Sanberg, the co-authors of the paper are Joelle Mendez-Hinds of the University of South Florida, David Winwood of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Vinit Nijhawan of Boston University, Todd Sherer of Emory University.

This article is based on a press release from the The National Academy of Inventors, a 501c3 organization comprised of U.S. and international universities and non-profit research institutes.