US in tech-transfer trouble

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In an article published in the American science magazine The Scientist, Ed Silverman examines the state of university-industry technology transfer on the other side of the Atlantic.

Surveys and statistics show that, in general, European universities and research institutions lag behind their North American counterparts regarding technology transfer (the exploitation of research) which is considered to be rather more advanced in the United States. 

However, in his article entitled ‘The trouble with tech transfer’, Ed Silverman, having talked to a number of academia and business people, shows that the situation is not that rosy in the US either. 

The article sheds light on growing domestic criticism, from both academics and industry, with regards technology transfer in the US, and explains why fewer business-academy deals are being made.

According to Silverman, business and industry people, researchers and venture capitalists alike accuse the university technology-transfer offices (TTOs) of everything from incompetence to greed. The offices are said to be disorganised, to employ incompetent staff who don’t understand how companies do business or what they are looking for, and to render preliminary technology reviews to assess commercial viability difficult for companies.

TTOs are also said not to understand the potential value of their own professors’ research and to bargain so hard over royalties with industry that endless negotiations are increasingly making technology transfer a bureaucratic red-tape nightmare. 

“Ever since the enactment of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, which allows universities to retain ownership of any patents that are developed using federal funds, an entrepreneurial spirit has enveloped many campuses,” writes Silverman, citing company sources who deplore that this has led to a “greed factor” within universities. 

As US university TTOs have become tougher to negotiate with, companies are now looking for inventions overseas, as European or Asian universities are “perceived as more willing to agree to industry terms”, Silverman suggests. 

In return, technology-transfer offices argue that running a TTO and covering intellectual property costs are expensive and keeping up with the fast-paced nature of business is becoming increasingly difficult. With regards US companies looking for overseas for inventions, the reason could, according to a TTO official, be the increasing number of talented researchers in those institutions. 

To access the full article by Ed Silverman, please click here.

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