Is there an appropriate number of new disclosures TTO managers should assign to members of their licensing staff each year? Some observers say that AUTM statistics indicate the proper range is between 20 and 26 per year, while authors have also cited 25 as a sensible target. But while many of the dozen TTO managers Interviewed for this article agree that as a target the number 25 makes sense, they still expect a wide range of performance and cases handled among their licensing managers for a number of reasons. In fact those variables, ranging from how the department is organized to the amount of support the TTO receives from other areas of the university, led others to say it’s virtually impossible to arrive at a target number that has any real meaning.
“Our goal of 25 or 26 has been pretty consistent,” says Alan Bentley, MS, assistant vice chancellor and head of the Center for Technology Transfer & Commercialization at Vanderbilt University. “I tell people that licensing professionals can handle around two new inventions a month plus their additional portfolio, which we assume is hundreds. In AUTM statistics, if you take the number of licensing FTEs in the database and divide it into the number of technologies disclosed for all respondents you get 22-25 year over year. Our personal model jibes very well with the overall basic AUTM statistics, but I’m willing to say this would not work at some other universities.”
“While we are pretty systematic in tracking metrics on a weekly basis for what tech managers do in the number of disclosures, filings, license options and other agreements, start-up companies, new revenue brought in, total patent expenses, and patent reimbursements, I cannot say that we have a specific metric that says if you have achieved this number you have under- or overperformed,” says Lesley Millar-Nicholson, director of the Office of Technology Management (OTM) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “While I generally accept that it’s between 25 and 30 on average, I would be remiss given the nature of the business we’re in to simply allocate that number.”
“We’ve not operated with a target number, although what they say is probably about right,” adds Erik Halvorsen, PhD, senior director, Tufts University Office for Technology Transfer and Industry Collaboration. “We have four licensing professionals with 80 this year, which is right on target. But what you have to go into is overall case load; two a month is reasonable for new disclosures, but if you have a backlog of hundreds of active innovations you’ll need to focus on marketing, and that kind of tips the balance.”
“I think [around 25] is a reasonable range,” says Brian Wright, PhD, associate director for commercialization, Office of Technology Transfer, Auburn University. “I’ve been here 12 years; we’ve had fluctuations in staff and case load, and when we go above that number we have trouble doing it right. We become a ‘patent factory,’ file more patents than we should, and do not evaluate innovations properly.”
But Dan Sharp, OTC director and associate vice president for research at UT Austin, says, “we do it a little differently. You just don’t have that kind of control. We have licensing specialists as a general matter in a particular field, and when we receive disclosures they are assigned to the appropriate licensing specialist.”
Certain deals, he notes, are “extraordinarily involved,” and individuals with such deals might have a smaller case load than their colleagues. “And if they say ‘I just say can’t get to this right now,’ we may assign it to someone else,” Sharp adds. He reports that in the last fiscal year there were 205 disclosures assigned to seven people. “We may do things more dynamically,” he continues. “Maybe we’re old school — suck it up and do the work.”
And Brendan Rauw, president and CEO, Westwood Technology Transfer and associate vice chancellor and executive director of entrepreneurship at the UCLA Office of Intellectual Property & Industry Sponsored Research, notes that “we don’t manage to a target, but I will say the target of 25 per year is about half of what we are doing. We bring in about 50 disclosures per license officer per year. Our team is doing an excellent job; it takes a lot of work to manage that load, but I don’t think it’s unmanageable.” A detailed article examining case load for licensing staff appears in the January issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To access the full article, as well as the publication’s entire archive filled with hundreds of case studies and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE.