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TTO staffing model proves “right-sizing” can save money

By David Schwartz
Published: October 23rd, 2013

Can increasing your staff actually save your TTO money? Though it may seem counterintuitive, that’s exactly what the Vanderbilt University Center for Technology and Commercialization (CTTC) has done, perhaps giving other TTOs some ammunition to take to administrators when seeking to increase staff in the face of tight budgets and research cutbacks.

Vandy’s assistant vice chancellor for technology transfer Alan Bentley calls it “right-sizing,” and he makes a very strong case that the increase in personnel expenses are more than offset by a large boost in reimbursement of patent costs. “When I came to Vanderbilt two years ago, the first critical step was right-sizing our professional staff from four to nine,” Bentley says. “We’ve already seen the financial benefits of investing in personnel. The cost savings in patent expenditures alone was enough to justify this investment. In the intervening two years, annual patent reimbursement rates have jumped from about 30% to more than 70%.” Bentley notes that the national patent reimbursement average is in the neighborhood of 40% to 45%.

In total, he says, the office has achieved patent cost savings on the order of $700,000 in the last year alone — far outstripping the cost of the five additional staffers. Patent cost reimbursements at Vanderbilt for FY 2013 were about $2.3 million. “These [savings] numbers will fluctuate from year to year, but it will consistently be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually if managed by a sufficiently staffed licensing group,” he asserts.

“We’ve created a model for proper staffing. We’ve gone a long way towards demonstrating that increasing staff size leads to overall cost savings — up to a point of diminishing returns, of course. You can’t hire a thousand people and expect benefits to scale.” A detailed article on the Vanderbilt staffing model appears in the October issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, along with hundreds of other case studies and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE

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