The Future of TTO Staffing: Let’s Tell Some Stories


In my previous post, we looked at five key drivers that will play a role in the future of university intellectual property offices, and by association your/my approach to technology transfer staffing. From these drivers, three “stories” emerge that will pave the way for our discussion on technology transfer recruiting strategy.

These three, short “stories” of possible futures for technology transfer offices are:

“Here comes the fun(ding)…da a da da” (Romance):

Global volatility stabilizes and a federal budget resolution is finalized. A major spending component of the new, federal budget is a renewed dedication to basic research and discovery and specifically the operations and initiatives involved in bringing the discoveries from universities to the marketplace. For the first time in history, the government is backing its policy (Bayh-Dole, AIA, etc) with specific funding for technology transfer operations. This funding is a direct result of suggestions from the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE) and  positive pilot tests through programs such as the i6 and iCorps. This federal support takes much of the burden off of decreasing university budgets and frees these offices to take the sort of risk necessary at this early stage. This funding is supported through the success of university crowdfunding and gap funding programs. Financial resources coupled with a better understanding, sharing, and adoption of best practices strengthen the technology transfer mechanism. Finally, technology transfer is widely resourced to succeed!


“Bayh-Dole’s Last Stand” (Tragedy)

Critics of the Bayh-Dole, changes in patent policy, and an increasing university budget turmoil converge to deal a death blow to technology transfer as we know it. Universities retain a designated function for technology transfer but it is mostly transactional and focused on making sure that the university protects itself from litigation.

The major outcome of these changes is that IP us awarded directly to faculty to commercialize at will.  The effect of this move prompts:

  • Large corporation to tie up certain universities as extended R&D operations
  • IP law firms to secure the freedom of information/publication early in the discovery phase, and begin to stock their in-house patent portfolios
  • Third party brokers to identify promising technology and to work an open marketplace for commercial partners
  • A few university tech transfer operations remain to act as regional hubs to faculty that are interested in working within the university system

In this scenario, Porter’s IP barrier to entry quickly becomes either affordable by a few or completely useless under unregulated sharing of new information. While many advocate that open sharing of information does innovation a service, it actually lowers the attractiveness of potential investments, and commercial partners/investors shift to more incremental innovation or campuses that they can control. This will essentially kill the market for start-ups and slow the advancement of technological breakthroughs under the pressures of controlled (not disruptive) market introduction!


“Revolution: Technology Transfer”(Pragmatic-Romance)

Pressure from budget cuts and critics inspire the university technology transfer operations to new heights. These offices have chosen the path of optimization and have use this as an opportunity for change—a moment to evolve the profession.

As part of this optimization, smart leaders use this reflection to reimagine what the structure of their technology transfer function should look like from a staffing standpoint, which will allow them to:

  • See some budget savings, optimizations
  • Integrate some additional skill sets into office capabilities

In the next few posts, we will build from this third “story” and take the current state of staffing and functions (as expressed by the 2009 AUTM transaction Survey, below) and suggest a “core” vs “contract” approach that will free up at least 30% of the allocation described below to either redirect to other core functions or to expend on additional staffing or funding needs




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