Quick opinion on how tech transfer culture is evolving
Today, I was led to this article. It got me thinking that many lack insider knowledge on how tech transfer offices operate. As a software/data licensing manager. I feel the following can help folks get a better grasp on the landscape.
1. TTOs constantly need to expand or evolve to foster innovation.
University TTOs must expand beyond IP licensing support. At a minimum, connections to investors, external partnerships, and new venture support should be considered.
Some Universities are implementing funding opportunities, demand-driven collaborations/SRAs, and extension programs to foster their ecosystem’s capabilities.
2. Non-traditional deals are becoming commonplace.
As AI/ML, data, and software copyrights become intertwined with other techs, universities need to learn how to navigate these forms of IP to create tailor agreements that support novel business models.
3. TTOs need benchmarks to operate.
Equity, royalty, fee, and anti-dilution numbers in IP licenses can greatly vary between industry spaces, so TTOs need rails to produce sensible term sheets. When a university had a big role in de-risking a tech (i.e., translational/gap funding, wet labs, advisory, in-house validation/maturation/testing, or other mechanisms), an argument for a higher equity stake can be made. TTO associations (such as AUTM), academic hubs (such as APTA and CEDIA), and university startup VCs (such as OUP) are key to enable this.
4. TTOs need to clarify who their customer is.
Some unis align toward an institutional purpose, others to build local ecosystem capabilities (i.e., climate tech, AI/ML, federated learning, quantum, semiconductors, connectivity, research outsourcing for emerging economies, etc.), and others align to keep PI satisfaction. TTO leaders must ultimately learn to strike a balance between impact and deals.
5. Managers and founders need more tech transfer education.
When founders/licensees lack academic IP licensing experience, unrealistic expectations can arise on deals. A deeper understanding of how universities manage IP as opposed to industry can help build trust and get deals flowing more naturally. Fellowship programs, formal training, and academic startup VCs can be helpful to balance startup/tech hype with down-to-earth IP/legal compliance.