Dipanjan Nag provides an insight into technology transfer as a profession and offers seven reasons why you should consider one.
Intellectual property has come to the centre of attention in every economy around the world. Universities are the heart of creating new inventions from the ground-breaking research that they perform every day. Technology transfer plays a critical role in transferring those inventions to the market in order to create products that touch our lives every day. The profession of technology transfer has evolved over the years and is one of the most coveted professional tracks for scientists, engineers, lawyers and marketing professionals. Often this is not a choice people actively make in the early stages of their career, it is choice they are aware of later in their career.
What is technology transfer anyway?
According to the Association of University Technology Managers (Autm), technology transfer is the process of transferring scientific findings from one organisation to another for the purpose of further development and commercialisation. The process typically includes:
- Identifying new technologies.
- Protecting technologies through patents and copyrights.
- Forming development and commercialisation strategies such as marketing and licensing to existing private sector companies or creating new startup companies based on the technology.
Academic and research institutions engage in technology transfer for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Recognition for discoveries made at the institution.
- Compliance with federal regulations.
- Attraction and retention of talented faculty.
- Local economic development.
- Attraction of corporate research support.
- Licensing revenue to support further research and education.
Economic impact of technology transfer – technologies from universities just in the US have had tremendous economic impact.
Startups from universities – we all know of internet company Google, content distribution network Akamai and biotech firm Genentech. More than 4,000 startups have been created from university technologies by technology transfer.
Seven reasons you should think of technology transfer as your new career
Autm is offering a webinar that is focused on choosing technology transfer as a career. The webinar discusses the background and training needed to enter the profession of technology transfer.
What are some of the sought-after skillsets for offices not only in the US but outside the US? What are some of the pathways to get to a certification such as a registered technology transfer professional (RTTP) and how could that help someone entering tech transfer? For professionals who are in their early-stage career in tech transfer, what are some of the key skills they need to learn to move to the next level?
The webinar also discusses the various functions within a technology transfer office, such as marketing, licensing, contracts, software analysis, compliance, operations, finance and negotiations. Why should you join technology transfer?
1 Be part of the innovation economy.
Today we live in the innovation economy, having shifted from a manufacturing economy. The technologies that universities create become the basis of the innovative products that are saving lives, making our lives better and, in many ways, follow chemical producer BASF’s tagline: “We don’t make the products you buy. We make the products you buy better.”
Products ranging from anxiety disorder and epilepsy medication Lyrica and autoimmune disease drug Remicade to HD televisions and X-Window, the underlying graphic user interface technology of modern-day computers, all exploit university intellectual property to some degree.
2 Join a dynamic, multifaceted profession.
Technology transfer is not just licensing. In fact, it is just one aspect of technology transfer. There are many facets, such as patent law, finance, accounting, compliance, negotiation and operations that make up the overall profession of technology transfer.
Startups also form a significant part of the profession these days, where entrepreneurs and CEOs are part of the day to day operations. Many larger offices engage experienced venture capital groups and angel investors as part of the overall team that evaluates, plans and executes the startup business. There are instances where some of the professionals from the technology transfer office have joined a startup that was formed at a university.
Working in technology transfer office (TTO) enriches you professionally as you are exposed to the various functions within the office that are part of the same team’s work. In many ways, it is like working in a startup operation that is fast-paced and dynamic. For a scientist like myself, I never had the opportunity to learn about the legal aspects of a deal until I joined a TTO. Other skills like negotiation are also something that you get to practise every day as a licensing professional.
3 It can serve as a launchpad to your next career.
Learning the various facets of business deal-making and startups creates the opportunity to move on to the next bigger thing. Whether it is becoming the director of the office or joining industry, there are various options that open up for a well-trained TTO professional.
I have personally seen many people flourish in an industry environment coming out of academic TTO. I know of several people who have taken on the role of vice-president of licensing at a company like conglomerate GE or automotive manufacturer General Motors. Others have gone to pharmaceutical firm Pfizer in licensing and business development roles. Senior business development and licensing people from industry are leading many TTOs, such as University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and University of Minnesota’s office for technology commercialisation. The commute is not only in one direction.
4 Make an impact and be in the news.
I strongly believe that people should not only work for a living – your profession should ideally provide meaningful work that impacts the lives of others. Working at a TTO, you can say that because of the work that was done at a university, and because of your role in getting that technology to market, you made a tangible impact.
I still take pride in the work that I was able to with Prof Joachim Kohn at Rutgers University. Kohn is one of the most prolific inventors I have known and also one of the smartest in terms of his keen eye towards commercialising those technologies. He created technologies such a bioresorbable stent and a small device that prevents fatal infections associated with surgery for pacemakers.
5 Your classes are paid for by the university – most of the time.
Most of us aspire to become better at what we do and develop professionally. Universities are one of the best places to work at. I completed my MBA while working at a TTO, all paid for by the university. This was a huge benefit that eventually got me to the next step. Most universities have programs such as this, where the employees can take free courses and progress towards a professional degree like an MBA or MBS.
Autm os one of the professional associations that offer courses in licensing and technology transfer. These courses are not free but generally the TTO sponsors those courses. In my case I was able to take the Harvard negotiation course that was entirely sponsored by the university.
6 It is a new profession that is growing rapidly.
The reason you have probably not heard of technology transfer as a profession is because it is a newer profession. In fact, technology transfer and TTOs came into existence in 1980.
The evolution of TTOs as a strategic part of a university is quite recent. Not only in the US, but in Europe, this is a rapidly growing profession too. Getting into any profession in its early days has its benefits. It does look like technology transfer will mature into a profession, especially as corporate R&D budgets are reduced increasingly and corporations looking outside of their boundaries for new technologies.
7 Get paid well, while making a difference.
Let’s face it, we all want to get paid well while making a difference. Who wouldn’t? In technology transfer you can do exactly that. Listed below are the four levels of technology transfer professionals and how much they get paid from a detailed survey undertaken by Autm on an annual basis.
Licensing associate (two to 10 years’ experience)
Entry level – licensing assistant (zero to four years’ experience)
Directors in technology transfer (five to 30 years’ experience)
Associate director (five to 20 years’ experience)
Overall, technology transfer is one of the most rewarding careers that you can have. Dealing with cutting-edge technologies every day that eventually become the blockbuster drug or the next innovative product in the market is exciting.
The potential for professional growth is another reason to join technology transfer. My personal experience working in this profession for more than decade on both sides of the fence has been very enriching. The best part about the profession is that people are really helpful and provide you with real guidance. I have had quite a few mentors who really encouraged, motivated and trained me through the years.
Webinar: How to choose an exciting career path in tech transfer http://bit.ly/1RuNwh1
If you want to learn more about technology transfer visit: http://bit.ly/1D9jysJ
Technology transfer explained in two minutes: http://bit.ly/1MtXKK8
Images 1 and 2 – credit to Autm Infographic for technology transfer
Tables 1 through 4 – Autm Salary Survey 2014, with permission from Autm
– A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn. It has been edited for style and republished with permission from the author.