RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – The Ewing Kauffman Foundation says technology transfer efforts at universities are too focused on a “home run” mentality and thus are hindering technology transfer efforts to the private sector.

While local officials reacted negatively to the report in comments made to The News & Observer’s Tim Simmons, the report deserves review because of the importance of tech transfer to not only the local but national economy.

"We are now at a critical point in which the incentives of some universities may lead to the codification of a system that will inhibit rather than promote commercialization of technological breakthroughs," said Robert Litan, vice president for Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation, about the report. (He also is a senior fellow in the Economic Studies and the Global Studies programs at the Brookings Institution.)

The report included a study of mission statements by university tech transfer offices and how many times terms such as entrepreneurship, licensing for royalties and industry relationships were mentioned as “primary objectives.”

The list is interesting:

• Licensing for royalties: 78.72 percent

• IP protection/management: 75.18 percent

• Facilitate disclosure process: 71.63 percent

• Sponsored research and assisting inventors: 56.74 percent

• Public good (disseminate information/technology): 54.61 percent

• Industry relationships: 42.55 percent

• Economic development (region, state): 26.95 percent

• Entrepreneurship and new venture creation: 20.57 percent

The report, which runs 34 pages, was released at the Innovation Policy and the Economy Summit in Washington, D.C.

Researchers said universities wanting to hit a financial “home run” are focusing efforts on the patenting and licensing of technologies that “promise of a bigger, faster payback.”

Instead, the authors said institutions “must refocus” or a “volume model: that “emphasizes the number of innovations and the speed at which they are commercialized.”

The report’s authors would prefer to see more “open source collaboration, copyright, non-exclusive licensing, and a focus on developing the social networks for graduate students and faculty to commercialize all types of innovations.”

Some recommendations include:

• Providing rewards for moving innovations into the marketplace rather than simply counting the revenue they may return

• Focus on faculty as the key agents of innovation and commercialization

• Push for further standardization in the interactions of campuses with tier faculty and with industry

Suggested ideas include:

• “Free Agency: Under this approach, faculty members are given the power to choose a third party (or themselves) to negotiate license agreements for entrepreneurial activities, provided they return some portion of their profits to the university.

• “Regional Alliances: Multiple universities form a consortia that develops mechanisms for commercialization. Economies of scale allow for lower costs of the commercialization function overall, and the universities are able to share costs among multiple participants. This model may prove particularly attractive for smaller research universities, which may not have the volume to support a seasoned and highly able licensing and commercialization staff independently.

• “Internet-based Approaches: Closely related to the regional alliance model, Internet-based approaches use the web to facilitate commercialization. The iBridge Network, a program funded by the Kauffman Foundation that works with a consortium of universities, is an example of such a model.

• “Faculty Loyalty: This calls for universities to consider giving up their intellectual property rights, anticipating instead that loyal faculty will donate a portion of their commercialization proceeds back to the university.”

The report is sure to spark controversy and comment. If it leads to a better tech transfer process, that’s good news for everyone.