Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Creative works programs can bring sizable revenues and quick ROI


By David Schwartz
Published: January 6th, 2015

Hitting a multimillion-dollar home run with STEM-derived intellectual property remains the big prize for technology transfer offices. Yet without the research dollars of the behemoths to reach for that brass ring, some small and mid-sized TTOs are turning to a quieter yet still profitable reality: innovations from the arts, humanities, and social sciences — aka creative works IP.

“For the most part, it involves copyrights and trademarks as opposed to patentable intellectual property,” says Timothy Willis, JD, the creative works licensing manager for UNH Innovation (UNHI) at the Durham-based University of New Hampshire. And though it may not be blockbuster material, the creative works arena can be a boon for cash- and time-strapped TTOs.

“The average financial return on investment for a STEM-based technology protected by a utility patent takes eight years-plus from the time you receive the invention disclosure,” says Denichiro Otsuga, PhD, vice president of CSU Ventures at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. “It requires a significant investment in terms of costs, as well as time and energy, to move that intellectual property into a commercial space.” The money and effort involved to protect creative works IP are comparatively low “since you don’t need, for example, an attorney to draft many pages of specifications for a utility patent,” he points out. “And the time to return on investment generally is much shorter, sometimes a matter of months.”

Consequently, TTOs probably could pursue 10 to 20 creative works opportunities for about the same resources that it takes to pursue a single utility patent, suggests Otsuga. “That may be the better option for many smaller offices.”

Creative works might not generate a huge home run, “but they do offer TTOs some lower-hanging fruit with untapped potential for royalty income,” adds Lisa Goble, PhD, licensing and research policy officer for the Office of Innovation Commercialization at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro (UNCG OIC). “For example, our highest revenue-generating license is a copyright license for an educational program used in K-12 school systems.”

Royalties aside, creative works innovations can offer significant social impact, says Steve Wille, assistant director and senior technology manager for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Office of Technology Management (UI OTM). “We’re looking beyond royalties as the end result to improving society and the world. That kind of value, when told in story format to donors via our foundation, might bring in more money than royalties ever could. Likewise, by telling the world that our university is a place that knows how to manage and improve social issues in America, we also will bring in better professors and better students. So the value should be much greater than just a pat on the back.”

In addition, “sometimes providing commercialization pathways for these types of innovations generates new opportunities to create and strengthen community engagement and to provide student learning opportunities that might not have otherwise been there,” notes Goble. A detailed article on how to build a vibrant creative works program appears in the December issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, along with our rich archive filled with hundreds of case studies and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE.

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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