Tech Transfer Central

The what, who, how, and why of technology transfer

Technology transfer, in the context of research institutions, is the process by which new inventions and other innovations created in those institutions’ labs are turned into products and commercialized. This is typically done in two ways: through licensing patented intellectual property to corporations, and the creation of start-up companies, which also often license the IP created by faculty.

What many people don’t realize is just how many products and technology advances we take for granted originated in university and federal laboratories, then ultimately reached the marketplace in large part through technology transfer efforts. Gatorade and Google are two often-cited examples, but there are thousands of others that have impacted virtually every scientific field and every walk of life: life-saving drugs and medical devices, alternative energy solutions, computer hardware and software, new modes of transportation, blockchain technologies, artificial intelligence, vaccines, robotics, cybersecurity, environmental solutions, agricultural innovations, aerospace, and countless others.

A key role of technology transfer professionals is to protect the intellectual property associated with these valuable innovations so that they can be licensed and commercialized, and brought to the marketplace for society’s benefit.

But over the years, technology transfer has become about much more than protecting IP. Tech transfer professionals are involved in a wide array of activities to support the commercialization process, including:

  • working with attorneys to secure patent and other intellectual property rights,
  • assessing the commercial potential of new inventions,
  • marketing available technologies to potential licensees and partners,
  • educating researchers on commercialization principles and strategies,
  • assisting with faculty start-up creation and development,
  • securing funding for early-stage research and start-ups
  • negotiating partnerships and license agreements,
  • organizing business plan and start-up competitions,
  • helping to build innovation ecosystems and support structures that promote innovation and economic development,
  • and creating programs that encourage both student and faculty to innovate in labs and maker spaces and engage in entrepreneurship so they can participate in bringing those innovations to the marketplace.

It’s a big, multifaceted, and complex job. In fact, it might just be the most important job that nobody knows about.

Successfully technology transfer has benefits for universities, companies, regional and national economies, and society at large.

For universities it can bring revenues that can be plowed back into research, as well as recognition of its scientists and their innovations – which in turn can help with faculty recruitment and grant funding. For companies, benefits include the ability to tap into research advances without spending on internal R&D, and introducing new products that can drive the success of their businesses forward. For regional and national economies, technology transfer is a key factor in growth through innovation, creating new ventures and stronger industries that create more jobs. And for society at large, the benefits are incalculable in terms of lives saved, improved health, a cleaner environment, and countless technical advances that bring not only new capabilities but that drive local, regional, national, and global economies forward through innovation.

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