The State of Tech Transfer

Annual survey shows an increase in the number of inventions, new products and patent licenses reported by universities that commercialize their research.
December 4, 2007

As research spending at colleges has risen, so too has the number of new products that emerge from the campuses, according to an annual review of academic intellectual property licensing activities.

The Association of University Technology Managers' U.S. Licensing Activity Survey of 189 institutions that conduct and sometimes commercialize research shows that total research expenditures reached more than $45 billion in the 2006 fiscal year, an increase of $3.1 billion over the 2005 total. That's the largest absolute increase since 2003, the report says.

"Without the sponsored program numbers being robust, we really don't have much to work on downstream," said Robert Tieckelmann, editor of the report. "These eurekas that faculty and staff have, they occur primarily under program initiatives and money from the federal government."

In fact, incoming research funds last year were most likely to be from U.S. government agencies, followed by industrial sources. The two sources, combined, account for between 71 and 75 percent of research funds given annually.

Tieckelmann, who is also assistant vice president of the Research Foundation of the State University of New York, said he's pleased with upward trends all around. As the report says, “It is likely little coincidence that new disclosures, patent application and licenses all made gains as well." (Comparisons of the survey from year to year are inexact because the composition of institutions participating in the study varies.)

Nearly 700 new products that originated on campuses hit the market in 2006, up from 527 products introduced a year earlier. Members of the association accounted for 18,874 new invention disclosures (an increase of 1,492 over 2005 totals), filed 15,900 total U.S. patent applications (up from 15,115 in '05) and saw 3,255 patents issued.

The number of licenses received also increased slightly in the past year -- from 4,932 signed in 2005 to 5,000 in 2006.

The University of California, which includes data from all of its campuses, reported the highest 2006 licensing income, more than $193 million. That figure takes into account $100 million the system received from a pre-trial settlement in a case involving Monsanto and a patent on the recombinant DNA used to make a dairy cow growth hormone. (A table of the top institutions appears below.)

A year ago, the UC system reported $93 million in license income, on par with what the results would have been without the settlement money. William Tucker, executive director of California's Office of Technology Transfer, said several longstanding revenue generators -- including a Hepatitus B vaccine and treatments that prevent skin from being badly damaged from laser treatments -- have helped the university sustain its place on the list (UC was third a year ago.)

Second on the list for the second straight year was New York University, whose $157.4 million in license income is noteworthy because the UC system spends roughly 15 times more money on research expenditures than NYU. Emory University, which took the top spot a year ago, dropped to 17th ($17.8 million). Its 2005 figure was supplemented by a major one-time boost.

Northwestern University, which didn't make last year's top 20 list, jumped from $4 million in licensing income in 2005 to $30 million in 2006, in large part because of Lyrica, a drug (invented by a chemistry professor and a postdoctoral fellow) that treats fibromyalgia, as well as diabetic peripheral neuropathy and postherpetic neuralgia, two of the most common forms of nerve pain. Because Northwestern's fiscal year runs from September to the end of August, its figures are already out for 2007, showing another increase (to $85.2 million), said Indrani Mukharji, executive director of the university's technology transfer program.

Among the other new inventions highlighted in the report are a tablet for adults with HIV, a device that detects strokes and a product that helps keep fruit ripe longer.

The report also showed that campus researchers launched 553 new start-up companies in 2006, an increase from 2005 after a slight drop the year earlier. Venture capital supplied initial funding for less than 20 percent of the companies, down slightly from 2005. (Friends and family are still the most common source of initial funding.) States and corporate partnerships increased their funding percentages by five percent in 2006.

Licensing to small companies (mostly non-exclusive licenses) accounts for nearly half of all licensing activity, the report shows. Licensing to startups are 15 percent, and to large companies are 33 percent.

Academic technology transfer offices saw record staffing levels, with the total employee count reaching 1,800. Tieckelmann said that number is still far too low: In many offices where the sponsored program money might exceed $100 million, an institution might still only have one or two licensing professionals making decisions about filing patent applications.

Technology Transfer Activity in Higher Education, 2006 Fiscal Year

Name of Institution License Income, 2005 License Income, 2006 Research Expenditures, 2006 Invention Disclosures, 2006 U.S. Patents Issued, 2006
U. of California System $93 million $193.5 million $3 billion 1,308 270
New York University $133.8 million $157.4 million $210.8 million 101 19
Stanford University n/a $61.3 million $699.2 million 518 118
Wake Forest $49.9 million $60.6 million $146.4 million 66 3
U. of Minnesota $47.1 million $56.2 million $594.9 million 230 28
MIT $39.8 million $43.5 million $1.2 billion 523 121
U. of Florida 40.3 million $42.9 million $459.1 million 260 78
U. of Wisc.-Madison $49.1 million $42.4 million $831.9 million 464 69
U. of Rochester $30.5 million $38 million $355.3 million 141 24
U. of Wash./WashResF $29.3 million $36.2 million $936.4 million 310 37
Northwestern U. $4 million $30 million $348.4 million 170 15
U. of Mass. $28.3 million $27.2 million $405 million 141 18
U. of Colorado $27.4 million $21.2 million $633 million 198 14
Harvard U. $28 million $20.8 million $624 million 277 35
U. of Michigan $16.7 million $20.4 million $797 million 288 79
Mt. Sinai Med.-NYU $16.8 million $20.2 million $269.6 million 39 6
Emory U. $585.7 million $17.8 million $366 million 130 19
U. of Iowa Research Fd. $19.2 million $16.9 million $346.4 million 89 22
U. of Georgia $11.3 million $16.8 million $323.8 million 106 13
U. of Utah $16.1 million $16.3 million $246.6 million 180 20

Source: Association of University Technology Managers


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