Evolving tech transfer activity: Colleges find success beyond revenue

Public universities are evolving their technology transfer activities but must take additional steps to address the demands of the innovation economy, according to a recent report from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

The report, “Technology Transfer Evolution: Driving Economic Prosperity,” finds public research universities moving beyond a transactional, revenue-driven approach to selling intellectual property for commercialization purposes.

It also calls for universities to accelerate the transition to a model that reflects broad engagement in economic development. Technology transfer offices should develop deeper relationships with industry and other community partners, the report says.

Two tech transfer programs working well

University of Central Florida, University of South Florida, University of Florida and Florida High Tech Corridor: Three universities and a regional economic development initiative support the development of research, the workforce, entrepreneurship and industry innovation. This demonstrates collaboration in creating regional innovation and economic development ecosystems, and how institutions can align objectives with industry.

Source: “Technology Transfer Evolution: Driving Economic Prosperity,” Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, 2017


Threats to budget and resources create pressure to generate revenue from licensing and innovation activities, but university leaders must recognize that successful economic engagement should not be focused on short-term income.

There must be “a longer-term view of how transfer activity affects the institution,” says James K. Woodell, APLU’s vice president for economic development and community engagement.

The report identifies several guideposts for colleges and universities aiming to evolve their technology transfer activities. Woodell says universities should be moving “beyond revenue as the sole metric” for success in technology transfer.

This leaves an opportunity for these offices to develop more relationships with business and industry and entrepreneurs.

“There are more benefits by allowing tech transfer into relationship development,” Woodell adds.

Two tech transfer programs working well (cont.)

Kansas State University: The Knowledge Based Economic Development program in Manhattan, Kansas, was established by Kansas State in 2008 to align the city’s strategy for economic development in a way that capitalizes on the university’s research strengths and the area’s growth opportunities. This illustrates university innovation management and economic engagement across academic, civic and private entities.

Source: “Technology Transfer Evolution: Driving Economic Prosperity,” Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, 2017

Another report recommendation is to better integrate and align tech transfer with the broader economic engagement efforts of universities.

For example, institutions pushing economic development and engagement as a central mission component is new and has led to confusion regarding the roles and responsibilities of individuals and units involved, including technology transfer offices and related professionals.

New outreach duties often require coordination across multiple campuses, schools, departments and units, which makes collaboration and reporting a challenge.

Many tech transfer offices lack adequate staff, training or resources necessary to meet the expectations placed on them in the context of economic engagement.  


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