Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Strategic GPS: Where could we go if we changed the model of university tech transfer and licensing?

Lately, I’ve been sharing some views on “A Faster Path from Lab to Market” (from the title of a Harvard Business Review article).

Some thought-leaders have made a case that current restrictions imposed by U.S. research universities on the ways their faculty can commercialize federally funded discoveries are slowing the diffusion of new technologies.

As readers of this blog will know, most universities channel commercialization through centralized technology licensing offices established in the wake of the passage of the Bayh-Dole Act. Over time, according to some, too many of these offices have become monopolies that slow the process of commercialization due to the constraints of the current system.

“We know that there are many vital innovations and discoveries languishing in university labs because of a suboptimal licensing system at many universities,” said Robert Litan, vice president for research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation. “One simple amendment to the Bayh-Dole Act would allow faculty members to choose their own licensing agents/experts and bring these discoveries to market quickly. Unleashing this kind of innovation will lead to the creation of new companies and new jobs.”

This approach, argue that if faculty members can choose their own licensing agents, the increased competition would speed up the commercialization of new technologies while still allowing universities to collect the same royalties as under the current system. The free agency solution is one of the 10 ideas that HBR says “will make the world better.”

In sum, continued federal support for research in academia and the federal labs is important for innovation, and has important economic benefits for the national economy and local economies. But at the same time, we will not maximize the benefits of this spending for society unless we do all we can to maximize the incentives for commercializing the innovations that this spending generates.

Our current innovation eco-system has clear limitations. These can and should be addressed as part of any national “innovation agenda.”

I've found in my work with Bioscience Bridge that we support many of the ideas here for doing so.

Bioscience Bridge is a technology transfer agency represents leading universities and their tech transfer offices. We connect partners to in-license life science discoveries and medical inventions for development into new products, applications, or services.

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