Tech Transfer eNews Blog

NFTs and NILs hit tech transfer: Some opportunity, some hype

By David Schwartz
Published: May 18th, 2022

An in-depth article on the opportunities as well as pitfalls of the emerging NIL and NFT market, the potential role for TTOs, and early experience for two tech transfer offices appears in the May issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the complete article, or for further subscription details, click here.

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) commodities are driving a digital marketplace of everything from art to memes and athlete images, and now university tech transfer programs are getting involved with promoting their institutions and athletes — and their trademarks and other IP. It’s a brave new world and the trailblazers are finding out what it takes to work in this arena.

One university has seen some success and is pushing forward with more ideas. Another saw a huge success with its first NFT — and likely will stop there. Their different experiences illustrate the vagaries of the digital market and the potential for hype, as well as opportunity.

It remains to be seen how much of this activity will fall within the purview of TTOs and how much will be managed within the athletic departments. But even if athletics ends up handling most of the NIL activity, it seems clear that there will be an opportunity for tech transfer to leverage the institution’s other assets with NFTs.

The University of Arizona is one of the first to dive into this uncharted territory. It recently signed the first commercial license agreement related to using university-owned copyright, logos, and marks for the creation of NIL assets.

The commercial license will support the first-ever NFT deal that enables collectibles to be made for every active student-athlete at the University of Arizona, says Douglas M. Hockstad, RTTP, assistant vice president with Tech Launch Arizona.

Under a deal with management company Athlete Assets, the program provides each student athlete at the university with at least two different individually personalized digital collectibles. The student athletes receive more than 80% of net revenue from any NIL transaction, which can be made with either U.S. dollars or cryptocurrency, Hockstad explains.

The production of individualized collectibles began with each player on the Arizona football team. The football NIL offerings were first available in March 2022 and included a special limited edition NFT card set for the school’s new 5-star wide receiver Tetairoa McMillon. The set sold for $3,500. Football was followed by basketball and women’s softball.

“This is something we had been looking at for a while, following the NFT phenomenon and trying to decide if there was a role in this for tech transfer and commercialization,” Hockstad says. “It’s an experiment for us to see how all this goes. We’re excited about how it’s going so far.”

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