Frequently Asked Questions

What is technology transfer?

How do academic institutions measure success in technology transfer?

What are the benefits of university technology transfer efforts?

Has there been growth in academic technology transfer programs?

Why has there been such a growth in technology transfer programs?

How does the public benefit from university-industry partnerships?

How do universities use the revenues realized from licensing?

What is the future of academic technology transfer?

What is technology transfer?

Technology transfer is a term used to describe a formal transfer of rights to use and commercialize new discoveries and innovations resulting from scientific research to another party. Universities typically transfer technology through protecting (using patents and copyrights), then licensing new innovations. The major steps in this process include the disclosure of innovations, patenting the innovation concurrent with publication of scientific research and licensing the rights to innovations to industry for commercial development.

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How do academic institutions measure success in technology transfer?

Early numerical measures include the number of patents filed, license agreements executed and new companies formed. Later numerical measures include revenues from license fees, royalties and cash from equity investments paid to the academic institutions and the numbers of products successfully introduced to the market. Success is also demonstrated by the impact the products have on our lives.

Other non-numerical - but equally important - results of technology transfer include a university's ability to retain entrepreneurial faculty, attract outstanding graduate students, contribute to the institutional reputation for innovation, augment its research program through interaction with the private sector and enhance its reputation for providing highly trained students for the industrial work force.

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What are the benefits of university technology transfer efforts?

Academic technology transfer - the licensing of innovations by universities, teaching hospitals, research institutes and patent management firms - adds billions of dollars to the U.S. economy and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs. It contributes to the spawning of new businesses, creating new industries and opening new markets. Most important, technology transfer from universities to the commercial sector has led to new products and services that improve our quality of life. From new cancer treatments to faster modems, from environmentally friendly metal processing to beautiful flowering plants, technology transfer from academic institutions is advancing the way we live and work.

Read The Better World Report for examples of the benefits of academic technology transfer.

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Has there been growth in academic technology transfer programs?

Yes. Academic institutions have seen a significant increase in technology transfer activity. For example, before 1980, fewer than 250 patents were issued to U.S. universities each year and discoveries were seldom commercialized for the public's benefit. In contrast, in fiscal year 2011, AUTM members reported that 4,700 patents were issued. In addition, in fiscal year 2011, 4,899 new license agreements were signed 19,905 total U.S. patent applications were filed and 671 startups were formed.

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Why has there been such a growth in technology transfer programs?

This success in university technology transfer and the resulting economic and health benefits, is the direct result of the passage of the1980 Bayh-Dole Act. Co-sponsored by Senators Birch Bayh and Robert Dole, the Bayh-Dole Act enabled universities, nonprofit research institutions and small businesses to own and patent inventions developed under federally funded research programs. Before the passage of this legislation, new discoveries resulting from federally sponsored research passed immediately into the public domain. The provisions of the act, however, provided an incentive for universities to protect their innovations and, therefore, for industry to make high-risk investments resulting in products made from those innovations.

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How does the public benefit from university-industry partnerships?

When industries license technologies from universities, continuing collaborative partnerships will often help move new discoveries from the laboratory to the marketplace. Partnerships enable researchers who make initial discoveries to participate in further developments. Generally, the involvement of the original creators in the continued development of the technology will significantly reduce the time to actual commercialization.

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How do universities use the revenues realized from licensing?

Revenues realized as a result of licensing activities by academic institutions are shared with the creators of the technology according to a policy formula adopted by the individual institution and used to help advance scientific research and education through reinvestment in the academic enterprise. The revenues held by the university are typically distributed to university research departments to provide for matters such as graduate research assistants, new equipment or funding for new or follow-on research activities. Universities also use revenues to help sustain the technology transfer process by paying for a portion of the patent and licensing legal fees and the marketing and management staff.

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What is the future of academic technology transfer?

AUTM members cannot predict the exact results of technology transfer efforts in the short term. However, the maturing portfolio of thousands of license agreements is likely to yield several hundred new product introductions for the coming year, and even another several hundred over the next two to five years.

An increase in the number of licensed products on the market predicts that the reported sales of licensed products, estimated in the billions of dollars, will also increase. Continued creation of new companies will continue stimulating preproduction investment in academic inventions. Thus, without knowing exactly which products will become available or which companies, AUTM can still expect to report a growing portfolio of important and practical inventions and growing public benefit and economic impact of its members' technology transfer activities.

For more information, see AUTM Licensing Surveys.

Most important, there is a growing recognition within academia and industry that university technology transfer efforts afford significant opportunities to many communities:

  • To the university, technology transfer gives the academic community the opportunity to have a positive impact on the marketplace, products and economic impact
  • To the industrial community, technology transfer gives the private, for-profit sector the means to tap the very significant world of new discovery found in the academic laboratory
  • To the public at large, technology transfer provides the opportunity to benefit from extraordinary new advances being made by the brightest minds.
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