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Focus on industry needs, not technology details

Fine tune your technology briefs to avoid missed opportunities

This article appeared in the August 2018 issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. Click here for a free sample issue or click here to subscribe.

Constructing the technology briefs used to market new innovations may seem like a simple enough task. Ideally, these are short write-ups designed to get the attention of interested suitors. But too many TTOs are failing to prioritize this basic but highly important function. As a result, promising technologies that really should have a shot at getting licensed may never get a look from potential licensees.

“When you look at these technology databases … a lot of [the technology listings] are a single paragraph, and they may be abstracts which in most cases were taken from what the inventors wrote,” observes Laura Schoppe, the president and owner of Fuentek, a technology transfer consulting firm in Apex, NC. “[The TTOs] don’t even create a market description, so the listings are focused on what a technology does or how it was created as opposed to what the technology enables for industry.”

These types of listings may also lack the key words that industry representatives are searching for, totally sabotaging a technology’s shot at getting noticed. “When the inventors do their technical abstracts, they are not using market-based words on what the technology will enable, so that is a key disconnect that I don’t think a lot of people think through,” says Schoppe. “An abstract isn’t going to cut it.”

Instead, why not devise a process that is squarely focused on the desired result — one that leverages the collective expertise of the TTO, and includes checkpoints to make sure a technology’s description is targeted appropriately and is getting the hits it deserves. Such an approach requires some legwork and ongoing care, but experts note that implementation is not nearly as arduous as some technology managers might fear.

Avoid common mistakes

Quentin Thomas, marketing manager in the Office of Technology Transfer at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, constructs most of the technology briefs for new innovations that come through the office. It’s a process that begins as soon as a case manager presents his or her evaluation of a technology to the licensing team. “That evaluation ends up becoming a really valuable source for writing the technology brief because a lot of the information behind the science and the market gets synthesized down a bit,” he explains. “I will take that document and use it to further synthesize it down into a one-page summary.”

When there are concepts or science that Thomas doesn’t fully understand, he will research the matter to get a better grasp of what the innovation is about. And once the summary is completed, he will send it to the principal investigator (PI) for review. “Most of the time, the feedback will be very minor … but occasionally there is a lot of editing,” notes Thomas. “What often ends up happening is [the PIs] will be trying to make it jargon-heavy again, and I have to communicate to them that this is to highlight the commercial application of the technology — not necessarily the cool science behind it.”

Thomas, who serves as an instructor for the AUTM marketing course, sees this kind of mistake often when reading technology briefs. “People want to talk about how cool the technology is, but then they miss what the actual value is to industry,” he says. Another common mistake is focusing on the wrong market. “When you write [the technology brief], you want to make sure that you apply whatever the benefits are to the licensee, and the licensee isn’t always the end-user,” he explains.

For example, in the case of a drug or a medical device, the patient who is being treated will ultimately benefit from the innovation, but Thomas notes that the patient may be two or three touch points away from the licensee. “You have the hospital, then you have the doctors and then you have the patient …. So if you are writing the technology summary and talking about the patient, then you are never touching on what the actual benefits are for the company that has to develop the innovation,” he says.

(Also see: “Longer-form feature pieces work hand-in-hand with technology briefs, showcase inventors and TTOs,” below.)

Watch your language

How can you stay properly focused when preparing a technology listing? Schoppe uses the acronym AMMO — representing audience, message, mechanism and outcome — to guide all of her marketing communications to insure that the message is appropriately shaped and aimed in the right direction to achieve the desired results.

“The key parts of [the AMMO construct] are to just think through primarily who is your audience, who are you trying to target, and what language and what topic matters to them,” explains Schoppe. “The message obviously is going to contain what you want to say, but it has got to be in a way that is couched in what matters to [potential licensees] and what they want to hear.”

If a technology is applicable to different markets, you may need to prepare different listings to make sure you are utilizing the right language and not confusing people, advises Schoppe. “Let’s say you’ve got a technology that is applicable to the medical industry. There are certain things that [medical professionals] think about and care about. You might talk about whether the innovation is going to require some type of FDA certification,” she explains. “But that type of language might scare off somebody else … in the toy industry who doesn’t have the same requirements.”

While the technology evaluation process should educate and inform writers to the point where they can ably describe a technology and its benefits, market research will offer important insight on who might use the technology, how they are going to use it, and what their language is, explains Schoppe. “Going back to medical devices, let’s say [the technology] is something that goes into MRI machines,” she offers. “You figure out who the players are in MRI and what is the current state of MRI, and that informs your language, application, and things like that.”

Knowing the language of potential licensees enables you to insert key words into the technology brief so that the technology listing will appear in relevant searches. “On our website we have key words that we can filter by,” says Thomas. “We sort our technologies into different categories, and even within the categories we can subdivide further by different interests as well.”

Maintaining a standard taxonomy that includes all of your dominant key words will help potential licensees quickly find a critical mass of relevant technologies, advises Schoppe. “It helps you in getting to the serendipity where they may come in with a certain key word, but because you are using a set taxonomy, instead of just one technology matching up, they get five,” she says.

While a potential licensee may not be interested in all of the technologies that are captured in a search, the array of options heightens the chance that a visitor will find something that piques his or her interest — either in terms of licensing or perhaps a research agreement down the road, adds Schoppe. “It gives you a better chance of [potential licensees] seeing a wider breadth of your capabilities,” she says.

Use of the taxonomy becomes increasingly important when you are posting your listings to a technology portal platform such as Flintbox or AUTM’s Global Technology Portal (GTP). “The key words will make it easier for people to find you,” notes Schoppe.

Be brief and be different

Input from the inventor is always important to a technology listing, but often times this input has already been gathered by the time a technology listing is being constructed. “If you have a staged approach where you have evaluated the technology, you have probably already interviewed the inventor at that stage,” explains Schoppe. If you already have a market-based description and you know what the applications and the benefits of the technology are, then it is just a matter of changing the description from a technical bent to a more marketing bent, she adds.

One of the biggest challenges when writing a technology listing is making it brief and to the point, but narrowing the message is an essential step, stresses Schoppe. “People don’t read anymore. You’ve got to be as succinct as you possibly can, and you want to capture their attention with what is different and unique about what you have to offer,” she says. “You need to home in on how you are different and how you are better.”

University innovations usually offer a feature or a sub-feature to go within an existing system, so that needs to be the focus, notes Schoppe. If the message is too broad, you risk losing credibility and potential licensees are apt to move on.

Review and revise

Once you have completed and posted a technology listing, the writing process isn’t necessarily done. You may need to tweak or revise the listing as the technology is further developed and you receive early input on the listing from potential licensees. Thomas is accustomed to revisiting his technology listings — typically in concert with subsequent evaluations.

“Those second and third evaluations, based on the patent conversion dates, are actually times when we [review the technology listings],” he explains. “The case managers will do the evaluations, and one of the things they factor in is feedback we have received from industry. So whenever I receive feedback, I include that in our database so that they can access it. It is linked to the technology.”

The case managers are talking to industry as well, and when they provide a second or third evaluation to the licensing team, they will also run through whatever feedback on the technology they have received, notes Thomas. “There are times when we will tweak things in [the technology listing] when the benefits aren’t quite accurate or if there are key words that are used in a particular industry that are not included in the technology brief,” he says. “We definitely go back and make edits.”

It makes sense to continue to tune the listing as the marketing process evolves, and it is easy to do online, observes Schoppe. “As you are having those conversations, you may find that the industry jargon is different than you thought it was, or the feature you were [focusing] on was accuracy, but it turns out that accuracy is not the problem, it is speed,” she says. “Your technology addresses both, so you flip the order in which you talk about your benefits.”

While it is ideal to have personnel with a marketing background prepare the technology listings, not all TTOs have that luxury. Nonetheless, the briefs can still be shaped and focused in the appropriate direction.

“If you don’t have a marketing person, having the technology managers at least do an initial draft of a technology’s description from a marketing perspective, with a list of applications and a list of benefits, would get you … at least 85% of the way there,” observes Schoppe. “It may not be perfect, but it will at least get picked up, and industry will be able to read it and understand it.”

Still, Schoppe notes that some TTOs fail to take advantage of the opportunity an effective listing presents. “Part of it is probably that technology managers tend to be overburdened, and they may be intimidated by the idea of having to write something up. They need help in just lowering that bar of fear,” she says. “If you are doing it in your head, just commit to paper.”

Contact Schoppe at laschoppe@fuentek.com; contact Thomas at qtthoma@emory.edu.


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