Technology Transfer: A Balance of Promise and Potential

One of the most important characteristics of any technology transfer office is the mandate under which it operates.  While the goal of technology transfer is to bring the results of research into the public marketplace where they can be put to public use, the emphasis and approach is dependent on the culture of the institution.  Considering one example, many offices now make their primary function the generation of revenue from their portfolio:



  • for the researchers who have invested to advance their field
  • for the institution that provides research support services
  • or as part of a directive for regional economic development

This mandate focuses on the financial benefits to be derived from the research, often with the understanding that this will in turn support further research.  The measurement of success, and allocation of resources, is necessarily different where the office has a different emphasis, such as providing administrative support, or the publication of results for the promotion of research.  This creates several challenges for traditional technology transfer offices:

  • How to identify emerging technology
  • How to evaluate the potential market
  • How to establish the most beneficial terms
  • How to balance the allocation of resources

Many technology transfer offices dedicate their resources to specific segments of their portfolio, allocating their resources to emerging technologies with the most promise.  This allows the technology managers to focus on making the most of that promise, in some cases taking years to execute an individual license, but realizing the most beneficial terms as a result of that dedicated effort.  While this makes efficient use of technology transfer resources, one consequence of this approach is that some early stage technologies may never be developed, since their potential is not readily identified.

In response, some institutions are encouraging a second mechanism for early stage technologies.  This mechanism provides support for researchers that want to pursue bringing their results into the public marketplace, without distracting from current licensing efforts on other technologies, or simply waiving the rights to the technology back to the researcher:

  • The importance of maintaining non-disclosure
  • Which route is appropriate for the technology
  • The next steps to take in marketing

This allows researchers, who might otherwise feel discouraged by a lack of attention, to participate in promoting their technology.  This also allows the institution, with a minimum allocation of resources, to realize benefits from technologies that might otherwise never have been pursued.

Success of this approach is anecdotal, but it will be interesting to see where this trend goes.

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