Editor’s note: Laura Schoppe is president of Fuentek.

Technology transfer programs at major research universities and other large institutions vary greatly in their technology transfer structure, both at the campus level and (for large, multi-campus systems) at the institutional level. This paper discusses best practices for implementing (1) centralization within a single campus, (2) coordination across multiple campuses, and (3) consolidation across multiple campuses. Although written with a focus on universities, the principles and practices are applicable to federal laboratories as well.

Centralization on Campus

With more than 15 years of experience in intellectual property (IP) and technology management, Fuentek has learned that technology transfer is most effective when universities centralize the technology transfer office’s (TTO’s) technology managers (TMs) and operations in a single office space. Rather than be collocated with the researchers, TMs are in a central office on campus and regularly visit the individual colleges and inventors to establish an appropriate level of familiarity.

Bringing the TMs into a single office location will greatly enhance the opportunities for teaming and sharing of information. Sharing their experiences, best practices, licensing results, and marketing contracts likely will result in an increased level of service back to the specific college and increased job performance efficiency, since TMs can more easily learn from each other.

Furthermore, bringing together TMs in a single office area provides administrative benefits. TMs can more easily adhere to a set of consistent procedures; they can call upon TTO support staff to help with administrative tasks; and they will likely be asked to perform fewer college-specific activities. All of this frees up more of the TMs’ time for marketing and licensing efforts.
Finally, centralizing TMs allows the TTO to commit resources to the colleges and technologies with the most market promise rather than an even distribution across all colleges.

Coordination across Multiple Campuses

This section applies to large institutions—particularly multi-campus state-funded university systems—where each campus has its own TTO. Below are best practices for cross-campus coordination in three areas: standard technology management procedures, shared information technology (IT) systems and common structural elements.

Standard technology management procedures

Having standard procedures from campus to campus for managing faculty technology and other IP helps ensure clear communication across campuses, facilitates decision making, presents a unified image of the university, and maximizes operational efficiencies. Specifically, we recommend that TTOs use (1) a standard invention disclosure form, (2) standard criteria for decision making, (3) a standard format for evaluating technology, (4) standard marketing materials, (5) shared marketing information and (6) equivalent licensing templates.

Shared IT systems

For all of a university system’s TTOs to successfully coordinate their activities and share information, each campus’ data must be easily accessible by and compatible with the others’. Such data sharing demands the implementation of some common IT systems, including (1) a technology tracking system accessible across all TTO locations via the Web and (2) a database to track marketing contacts and identify additional licensing opportunities for potential licensees.

Common structural elements

Having some uniformity to the structure of each TTO across all of the campuses in the university system has many advantages. We recommend all campuses standardize the following: (1) job titles, (2) performance-based metrics and (3) financial reporting processes In addition, we recommend having all TTOs governed by a single Board of Advisors, composed of equal representation from each campus as well as university system and external representation. Finally, significant operational efficiencies can be achieved by striving for consistency among the TTOs in regards to consulting contracts and pooled resources.

Consolidation across Multiple Campuses

Many multi-campus universities employ a fully distributed structure for their TTOs. In the distributed model, each campus has its own TTO, which may or may not coordinate with each other. This distributed structure is not the most efficient use of the university’s financial resources. TTOs can be hampered by inadequate staffing and a mismatch of technical expertise. A low-innovation campus with few TTO resources may produce a commercialization gem but lack the support and/or expertise to capitalize. In addition, commercialization decisions may not be driven solely by market factors due to the influence of “local politics.”

Consolidation is the solution

Consolidating a university system’s technology transfer activities into a single organization allows for the rapid and easy redistribution of technology transfer resources on an as-needed basis and ensures decisions based upon what is best for the university as a whole.

To be crystal clear: Fuentek does not advocate the elimination of on-campus TTOs. Such on-the-ground support is absolutely essential to a technology transfer program’s success. Rather, Fuentek recommends that some—but not all—technology transfer activities be consolidated within a single organization that serves all campuses.

A consolidated organization can be structured in several ways:

• It can be a service-based organization that supports all campuses with certain activities, such as technology evaluation, market research, patenting and training of faculty.
• It can have decision-making budgetary authority, selecting technologies for commercialization, implementing the marketing strategy, and negotiating agreements.
• It can be a separate, non-university, not-for-profit entity that is the assignee for the entire university system’s IP portfolio and, therefore, manages the entire technology transfer process.

Cross-campus consolidation makes the technology transfer process more proactive, addressing market needs and ensuring that resources are consistently directed at the innovations with the greatest potential for commercialization success, regardless of which campus was that technology’s home.

Leadership Makes It a Reality

The overall success of efforts to centralize, coordinate, and/or consolidate a university’s TTOs is highly dependent upon institutional leadership, both by the TTO’s director as well as senior management. By establishing and communicating a shared commitment to centralization, cooperation, and/or consolidation—and providing the required financial resources—an institution can truly achieve greater efficiencies, cost savings, and improvements in effectiveness.

Note: The full paper can be downloaded: http://bit.ly/fjKlsk. If you would like to discuss the concepts presented in this paper in further detail, please contact Fuentek president Laura Schoppe (919-249-0327 or info@fuentek.com).

(c) Fuentek

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