tech transfer article

Upgrades to Tech Transfer Office Catch the Daily Transcript’s Eye

In late June, the San Diego Daily Transcript reported on enhancements and improvements in the Tech Transfer Office – upgrades long in the works and now under way – and characterized the changes as “making waves.” The story, with permission, is reprinted below.

UCSD’s tech transfer changes making waves

By Katherine Conner, The Daily Transcript

At the Global Connect Summit in October 2013, University of California San Diego Vice Chancellor of Research Sandra Brown and then-Director of the university’s new Division of Innovation and Industry Alliances Philip Bourne spoke about UCSD’s efforts to bridge the academia-industry divide, and the relatively uncharted path they were taking to do so.

Eight months later, how is the school doing in implementing the plans Brown laid out, and what work remains to transition the university into the technology transfer giant and innovation partner administrators believe it can be?

“Here in the Technology Transfer Office, we are seeing a number of small changes done quickly, but there will also be some larger changes that occur over time,” said William Decker, associate director of UCSD’s Tech Transfer Office.

Some of those smaller changes are through the express license program, which encompasses an engineering express license and therapeutic express license.

Decker said these streamlined license agreements have been integrated into the academic side fairly smoothly and are proving successful, although some industry partners aren’t quite used to the cemented terms yet.

The express license program is a downloadable license for innovation that companies can apply for with preset terms. An internal committee decides within 30 days whether to go forward with the license after viewing the company’s application and business plan, which is a much faster timeframe than typical negotiations and tailored deals yield.

“We’re seeing, I think, the start of a slow build – we’ve had a number of nibbles, but haven’t seen a sharp increase in these licenses,” Decker said. “It has to do with the San Diego community – they’re used to having a tailored agreement, and this isn’t a tailored agreement. This type of program has been established in a number of universities and is intended to serve the faculty, who perhaps don’t want to have to spend a lot of time entering negotiations and legal review, so it’s very streamlined for that audience.

“But here in San Diego we have a rich entrepreneurial community that is used to sitting across the table and hammering out a deal. That’s how we normally do business is through tailored agreements, but as word spreads about this program we think that its use will increase.”

Teri Melese, assistant vice chancellor in the Division of Innovation and Industry Alliances said these express licenses are meant to be another option for researchers and industry partners, and UCSD is aware that a single approach won’t work for every transaction.

“What we want to do is have a broad spectrum of vehicles by which people can enter into agreements –it’s never going to be one-size-fits-all,” Melese said. “Some businesses will need special things and we want to cater to that, but we also want to make sure, for people who can benefit from the faster timeline, that we do have that available.”

The Innovation Network, or iNetwork, is the Division of Innovation and Industry Alliances’ overall approach to fostering what it calls the “Innovation Highway” by serving as a connector between and within the academic and industry sides.

In addition to express licenses, Decker said, UCSD researchers also generate patents, innovation disclosures, startup companies and general licenses, which allow the school to put some numbers behind its “innovation.”

He said the number of patents the school generates has been on an upward trajectory for years, netting about 60 to 90 U.S. patents per year as of late. In fiscal 2013, the UCSD Technology Transfer Office portfolio reported filing 273 patents, with 62 issued.

As for innovation disclosures, the university received 397 in 2013. These were made up of 266 inventions, 85 tangible research materials and 46 copyrights and trademarks. Fiscal 2013 saw 15 startups established, of which 12 were in the biomedical/life sciences sector and three in the physical sciences.

Patent licenses tend to range from 30 to 50 per year, while the total number of licenses is about 50 to 80 per year. Fiscal 2013 was no different, with 76 total licenses executed, 49 for inventions and 27 for copyrights or trademarks.

The total number of active licenses in 2013 reached 215 statewide and 452 globally.

The Technology Transfer Office’s fiscal 2013 report lists its income at $26.6 million, $23 million of which is from fees and royalty, and the remaining $3.6 million from legal cost reimbursement.

In addition to these concrete figures, Melese said, UCSD also recently rolled out its Undergraduate Research Portal, its iNetwork approach to innovation, and noted that several new accelerators on campus are working to get innovation from the lab out into society.

The Innovation Network, or iNetwork, is the Division of Innovation and Industry Alliances’ overall approach to fostering what it calls the “Innovation Highway” by serving as a connector between and within the academic and industry sides.

The Undergraduate Research Portal was established as part of the increased communication outlined in the iNetwork, as it was done in collaboration with the Alumni Office and Career Services.

“It’s amazing because students create profiles, and it enables industry and the internal research engine to post opportunities for students,” Melese said. “There are studies, entrepreneurial challenges and activities going on but no one place to post it all. Now all those things can go onto the research portal to communicate what’s happening.”

That was a keyword for Melese and Decker – communicate. They both emphasized that a major role of the Technology Transfer Office and Division of Innovation and Industry Alliances going forward is communicating UCSD’s tech transfer success stories, what the school has to offer industry partners, and serving as a connecting organization to get rid of the “silo” perspective that plagues academia.

“Basically, over the last 20 years, we’ve had a large number of successes, and one of the drives from our office is to communicate those better,” Decker said. “We tend to go about our jobs as service providers in the background, with the faculty and students as the stars – but doing more to tell their stories is important, because the faculty and inventors are busy doing what they do. We’re starting to inform San Diegans of the new things coming out of UCSD, and also doing more on social media.”

To that end, the Technology Transfer Office gathered some of the most innovative and biggest-name professors at the school to discuss the next big wave of tech transfer and the innovation pipeline on Sunday at the new San Diego Central Library.

Robert Dynes, president emeritus of the University of California and professor of physics at UCSD, joined Shu Chien, National Medal of Science recipient and director of the Institute of Engineering in Medicine; Larry Goldstein, director of the UCSD Stem Cell Program; Nicholas Spitzer, director of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind; and Larry Smarr, director of CalIT2 to talk about some of the work they’ve done and how they partnered with industry to commercialize it and fulfill the university’s mission of bettering society.

Dynes had some particularly striking remarks on why this matters, and why UCSD is taking the lead on making these changes.

“As we entered the 21st century, we still had an R&D mindset – research and development,” Dynes said. “We would pursue it, demonstrate its value, and then hand it off to someone and hold your breath and hope it was successful. That was the mode. You pass it off to somebody else who was responsible for actually taking it to products that would benefit society.

“That R&D era ended, in my mind, on Sept. 11, 2001. I will never forget – probably a lot of people will never forget – the site of the World Trade Center buildings collapsing, and watching first responders trapped in the buildings.

“I knew as a research scientist in the telecommunications field that we had developed state-of-the-art wireless devices that could have kept the responders and the people in the buildings in touch with the dispatchers who were on the ground, and tell them how much time they had left. But those devices never made it into the hands of the responders. I remember looking on television, thinking no, no – we know how to do that. But we didn’t. And I’ll be haunted forever by that observation.

“That single day in my mind caused a transition to a new era – a transition from R&D to RD& D – research, development and delivery. We can no longer afford the luxury of handing off those responsibilities to somebody else. We have to move discoveries from the bench to the public domain as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

One key component that has yet to be realized at UCSD is a restructuring of the faculty reward system, which currently incentivizes and rewards professors based only on publications, not taking into account things including companies created, patents awarded or licenses granted.

This is certainly on the side of “larger changes that occur over time” that Decker mentioned, but Melese said she predicts there will be change in this arena within the next five years.

“We’ve come to the realization that we need to encourage faculty to be entrepreneurial and innovative, and that won’t happen if the only metric for promotion is through publications,” Melese said. “So I definitely think we will see changes on the horizon.

“It better not be in the next decade,” she added. “I think with the new UC leadership and [University of California President] Janet Napolitano, I’m very hopeful that these concepts will happen within the next five years.”