Human Capital at the Service of Technology Transfer

Who is responsible for managing technology transfer?

Good people do great things. Within the university or research institution, the main technology transfer actors are the researchers (scientists, engineers, lab technicians, students), and the technology transfer managers (technology transfer office staff or other support staff). Human resources management for technology transfer should aim to motivate the researchers to produce knowledge and participate in technology transfer, and to recruit the right technology transfer managers, with the right skills and competencies.

people holding light bulbs as a representation of brainstorming session with teammates conducive of knowledge sharing
(Photo: alphaspirit/Getty Images)

Researchers

Researchers are key actors in both the creation of new knowledge and its dissemination within and outside university boundaries. Although it is becoming more commonplace for researchers to get actively involved in technology transfer, many of them are still struggling. Researchers are busy people and often lack time and market-oriented skills, fear for their academic right to publish, perceive technology transfer as a bureaucratic hurdle, lack support from the university, and few universities explicitly consider technology transfer activities in the review process for promotion and tenure.

The role of researchers in technology transfer

Technology transfer requires active participation of researchers. Inventors typically provide technical evaluation of previous patents and publications in their field, assist patent attorneys with writing the patent and responding to detailed examination report objections, and discuss technical aspects with interested companies. In addition, the interpersonal networks of researchers can often be used to kick-start links with industry.

7 reasons why the cooperation of researchers in technology transfer is vital

  1. To generate ideas which provide the basis for the commercial opportunity;
  2. To disclose inventions with commercial potential to the technology transfer office (TTO);
  3. To assign their rights for the inventions to the university;
  4. To assist the TTO in seeking protection (e.g. patent) before publishing the results of the research in academic publications, conference papers, etc.;
  5. To find potential licensees, investors and other partners;
  6. To support further development of the invention (e.g. as a consultant to a licensee or as a founder of a spin-off).

On these grounds, companies invest in the university research and the researchers. 

Incentives for researchers to transfer their findings

In order to motivate and facilitate researchers to disseminate their research results for the benefit of society, universities and governments can put incentives in place, which will influence their involvement.

Technology transfer training

One of the essential activities of TTOs are related to education and training of academic staff related to IP and technology transfer.

Capacity building consists of improving human resources capability and technology, providing finances to provide needed resources, and administrative and management capacity – range of skills needed in current staff or new staff, attitudes and motivation, statistical capability to monitor trend, periodic assessment relational skills (cooperate with others).

Knowledge management is the systematic process of identifying, using and transferring information, knowledge that people can create, improve and apply. The key to knowledge management is the creation of connections between people with the necessary competencies and expertise.

Technology transfer managers

Technology transfer managers play an important role in transferring knowledge and technologies to society. Technology transfer managers are employed in a wide range of roles across a number of support functions: TTOs, Research Support Offices, University-Business engagement offices, Impact offices, etc.

Technology transfer manager's profile

Technology transfer requires a wide range of skills, experiences, and attitudes. It is not always easy to find talented people who understand both academia and industry and are able to set up agreements that meet the needs of the institution, the researchers, industry and society. There is no one rule for the type of profile that technology transfer managers need, but an effective TTO consists of a team with complementary abilities.

Technology transfer managers should:

  • have experience working in both sectors (university and industry);
  • have IP knowledge, sales skills, people skills and know how to run a business;
  • be flexible;
  • be capable of winning the confidence of the researchers.

Incentives for technology transfer managers

The incentives for recruiting and retaining these staff are the salary they receive, the promotion prospects from doing the job well, an interesting varied job, working with leading researchers, and the satisfaction of supporting their university in the dissemination and uptake of university research results.

  • Salary: Recruiting good technology transfer managers at university-level salaries can be challenging. The vast majority of the technology transfer managers are university employees, and as such are governed by the university employment practices of scales, pay awards, assessments. In the case of the very small number of wholly owned subsidiary companies, for staff employed by these, there is more flexibility of employment conditions, including salary.
  • Bonuses: It is most unusual for universities to give bonuses to technology transfer managers. One reason is that bonuses based on wrong criteria may incentivize staff to favor short-term gains over longer-term deals, which may have more impact for society.
  • Recognition: Some universities and public research institutions (PRIs) provide recognition and reward schemes for technology transfer managers such as healthcare insurance, retention schemes, employee-of-the-month prize, etc.