Transferring Towards Impressive Income

Technology transfer is being recognized as a lucrative investment, even in states that are struggling to make ends meet. Successfully licensing and commercializing research outcomes can be extremely profitable due to the jobs and tax revenue it generates. These benefits of technology transfer have recently been inciting interest and investment.

For example, Maryland has included a $6.25 million “Maryland Innovation Fund” to support technology transfer in its budget for fiscal year 2013. Five Maryland schools will each contribute $250,000 while the state adds $5 million to fund research, intellectual property management, and start-ups. This large investment from well-known schools like Johns Hopkins University, illustrates their belief in the success of technology transfer.

It is easy to see the financial benefits of technology transfer when looking at the profits of the top five licensing institutes from fiscal year 2010, the most recent year of data available from the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM). City of Hope National Medical Center’s Beckman Research Institute, Northwestern University, New York University, Columbia University, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center all earned over $125 million.

Though technology transfer income appears impressive, it can stem from research that was done as long as a decade ago. This fact isn’t deterring many institutions. Some organizations are spending billions of dollars a year on research. For example, the top spender in fiscal year 2010, the University of California, invested $5.2 billion.  Other leaders in research spending are the University of Texas ($2.4 billion), Johns Hopkins University and its Applied Physics Laboratory ($2.5 billion), MIT ($1.4 billion), and the University of Michigan ($1.1 billion).

Another critical, more current measure of technology transfer success is invention disclosures. None of the leading licensing organizations appeared in the top five, however, it is possible for organizations to increase their invention disclosures. John’s Hopkins doubled theirs from five years ago after making modifications to their process. The university notes that it made staffing changes, improved its data management system, and continued to focus on the customer service aspect of licensing.

There are certainly time and money challenges for any institution involved in technology transfer, but the executive director of Columbia Technology Ventures and Columbia University’s vice president for intellectual property and technology transfer, Orin Herskowitz, suggests several ways of dealing with them. He recommends funding high potential technologies with small internal grants, applying for local program awards, and working with established companies.

How has your organization maximized cash flow through technology transfer?

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