There is nothing like waiting in a doctor’s office waiting room to catch up on some light reading. I must say that my last trip to the hospital was worth it because I fell on this refreshing article in the September issue of Biotechnology Focus entitled “Canada’s Biotec Ecosystem”[i]. Finally reading about TTOs playing an integral part in the commercialization ecosystem and in the country’s economic development made my wait to see the doctor bearable.
Recently, reports have been coming out of the woodwork regarding the place that university TTO’s have in the economic development sphere and whether we actually have a role to play. There are avid supporters of our roles being more to “push” out technologies, some who support our “pull” activities related to industry contracting, and some who would like to see us disappear altogether so they might develop a monopoly on university technology commercialization (at least recognizing the value of university research). As small TTOs, we have already adopted a hybrid model of push, pull, bridging gaps, linking partners, strategically financing IP protection, and finding funding for our operations and activities, while justifying our existence to all the players who should be the partners, not the naysayers, in the projects we undertake.
So back to the article, here are some key points to remember:
1. “Universities are key producers of ideas, research, and potential products. It’s their Tech Transfer Offices (TTO), also known as University-Industry Liaison Offices or Industry Liaison Offices, that work to drive this success.” (As TTOs it’s time that we start explaining to our stakeholders exactly how we do drive this success – because we do, on a daily basis we drive this success)
2. “(…) TTOs are the primary point of contact for companies that wish to acquire university’s patented or patent-pending technologies under various forms of license agreements and related business arrangements.” (As TTOs it’s time that we find new ways to expedite the negotiation processes with industry, to debunk myths and start to alleviate their apprehensions in working with our institutions)
3. “TTOs are also the primary contact for university researchers who wish to know if their results are patentable, or to seek guidance in responding to business inquiries regarding collaborative or sponsored research.” (more meetings with our faculty, more understanding of what they are doing and how their research can be explained to potential industry partners)
4. “TTOs are typically under-funded, under or inappropriately-staffed and have inadequate funding available for properly protecting IP.” (yet we are expected to exceed performance expectations or suffer further funding cut-backs)
5. In the Conference Board of Canada report (http://wwwconferenceboard.ca/HCP/default.aspx), “Canada was criticized for not having taken steps to ensure science can be successfully commercialized and used as a source of economic advantage” (Although new NSERC programs are rolling out and are geared towards the commercial aspects of academic research – the TTOs role needs to be better recognized as the driver of commercialization success of these projects).
6. The biotechnology sector (and I argue all sectors) requires a healthy ecosystem where industry, the financial community, government, academia and research institutions work together in a coherent manner to ensure the sector’s viability and commercialization success. (This means that all the stakeholders must recognize each other’s strengths and work together to exploit these strengths, having the same final outcome as ultimate goal)
So, this article supports the role that TTOs play in the functioning of a successful commercialization ecosystem. We work at bridging university ideas, research and technologies to industry relevant applications, and industry questions to university answers. We enable the two-way transfer of knowledge and innovation. Our role, meshed with all the other components of the ecosystem and together we advance Innovation. As TTOs, we need to better explain what it is we actually do to achieve successful transactions since we are often behind the curtains, setting the scene and not out front receiving the applause at the end of the production. But that’s OK, because behind every great academic-industry deal there is a great TTO having done its job, contributing to economic development and commercialization ecosystem in Canada.
[i] Canada’s Biotec Ecosystem, Biotechnology Focus, September 2010, Vol 13, Number 8