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Not resting on its laurels, MIT beefs up tech transfer efforts

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: March 28th, 2018

Based on averages for patents and licenses issued, licensing income generated, and start-ups created over the span of 2012-2015, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge ranked as the eighth-best university for technology transfer in the United States, according to the April 2017 report “Concept to Commercialization: The Best Universities for Technology Transfer,” from the Milken Institute in Los Angeles. In addition, last September, MIT came in second in the annual ranking The World’s Most Innovative Universities for the third straight year, according to Reuters. Neither accolade is surprising given that the public data posted by the MIT Technology Licensing Office (TLO) on invention disclosures, patents, options, and licenses shows a consistent record of growth and high performance since fiscal year (FY) 2008 despite occasional year-to-year variability.

By any measure, the MIT TLO was extraordinarily successful when Lesley Millar-Nicholson, MBA, CLP, took the helm as director in July 2016. “The TLO was flourishing under the leadership of founder and previous director Lita Nelsen, who is a legend in her own right,” says Millar-Nicholson.

Upon Nelson’s retirement, the TLO was primed to continue its growth trajectory under the new leadership of Millar-Nicholson. However, the MIT leadership saw an opportunity to position the TLO to take advantage of the shifting tech transfer landscape and give university innovations even more opportunity to make an impact. The administration charged Millar-Nicholson with the following four clear mandates during the interview process:

  • Provide thought leadership and general strategic direction for MIT’s intellectual property (IP) activities and policies;
  • Expand IP activity across different disciplines and industry sectors, including an emphasis on software;
  • Assess current TLO practices in light of the rising volume of TLO activity, ranging from traditional invention disclosures to industry-sponsored research; and
  • Create and execute strategies to engage external partners.

To show leadership in these areas, for the past 19 months Millar-Nicholson, her management team, and the entire MIT TLO staff have embarked on a series of change activities tailored to MIT’s unique environment. This change package includes the following key steps:

  • Adding a communications officer.
  • Redesign the TLO website.
  • Preparing to replace the TLO’s IP database. The
  • Launch ready-to-sign software licenses.
  • Upgrading patent management leadership.
  • Streamlining start-up licensing using a start-up option template.
  • Installing a contract coordinator and creating additional contract templates.
  • Increasing flexibility with corporate-sponsored research partners.

Each of these areas of focus and change is detailed in an article that appears in the March issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the complete article, along with the publication’s 10+ year archive filled with hundreds of best practices and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE.

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