Technology Transfer and Economic Development

Originally published in John’s Journal: Research and Development by the University of Missouri. Copyright 2006, Curators of the University of Missouri.

Among the means of encouraging economic development, few are more important than insuring we have the best technology transfer process and procedures we can afford. Contained within the Office of Technology and Special Projects, technology transfer is a young art form. Here at Missouri, technology transfer has attracted considerable attention and growth since the late 1990s.

The University’s technology transfer process is one that has been highly scrutinized; in 2003 alone, it was reviewed by three separate external parties.

Today, technology transfer has the attention of both Missouri citizens and government. They recognize the link between strong research universities and a healthy economy. It is our obligation to forge an efficient and effective connection between the research coming from the University of Missouri and the state’s entrepreneurs and businesses.

We are starting with the base set of measures typical of university technology managers. Admittedly biased towards intellectual property involving the patent process, these measures include disclosures, patent applications, patents awarded, licenses/options signed, and licensing income. Over the past several years, we have had considerable improvement in these measures, particularly those critical steps early in the sequence, such as faculty authorship of invention disclosures.

We have not done as well with steps toward approaching the marketplace, such as licenses executed or business start-ups.

The University intends to improve our performance in technology-based economic impact, particularly as it relates to the Missouri economy. We have several tech-based areas where University of Missouri faculty are national, if not global leaders. While broadly focused among the life sciences, our competitive advantages are not limited to the life sciences.

Our current overall focus within the technology transfer operations is to increase assistance and service to faculty. This will be measured by their growing participation, confidence, and understanding about the technology transfer process.

We currently are examining the technology transfer process itself as broken down in the sequence from idea to market (if you are unfamiliar with the steps in this process take a look at a model posted by the University of Virginia).

The University intends to streamline our process, making it more transparent to faculty, as well as identifying and minimizing bottlenecks by reallocation of staff effort. As a tool to help in this process, we will soon be purchasing a software platform specifically designed for management of IP that can be used across the University.

Lastly, as we become proficient with our new tools and orientation, these efforts must be combined with University-wide education about the appropriate role, process, and means of technology-based economic development. I offer the following simple graphic that embodies three important messages:

pyramid diagram

1) University-based technologies have a clear, measurable progression with faculty expertise as the base; moving up the pyramid toward the market is based on the quality of the faculty member’s idea, in addition to knowing (and surviving) the route.

2) There are alternatives means, and fast-track routes, to market beyond patenting. The university may or may not be involved in the process.

3) If we are to capture an increasing share of university technology and grow our own businesses through the technology transfer process, we need to have the confidence of the faculty to nurture participation, and the facilities (such as incubators and research parks) in place to encourage business clusters within our campus communities.

We welcome your comments and suggestions as we further improve our technology transfer process.

Regards, John

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