Universities, large and small, are grappling with their fiscal foundation for research as COVID-19 threatens every aspect of higher education. This puts tech transfer offices under fire to fulfill their mission and sustain operations as their revenue pipeline is undercut. At the same time, the urgency of new inventions gives tech transfer an opportunity to enhance its role in the support of innovation.
Tackle Budget Pressures Proactively
Our clients tell us that the past few months have been busier than ever as TTO’s establish remote work plans and continue to push through technologies already in the pipeline. With this work completed, the new challenge will be to address an imminent slowdown in disclosures as COVID-19 has shuttered many academic research labs and sidelined research initiatives that are not focused on COVID-19. The proactive TTO will be looking for additional revenues to offset this decline and shore up operations in the face of possible budget cuts coming down the pike.
That said, this is an opportune moment to take a look at the entire non-active patent portfolio and cull the non-performers. It’s never been easy to tell a researcher that there is no hope for future commercialization of their work but it’s the TTO’s responsibility to push the hard decisions. Fact-based decision-making with a consistent lens applied to each project can help take the emotion out of the process. We have found that a rigorous competitive technical analysis based on patent analytics is extremely helpful in achieving consensus. The outcome will yield savings on maintenance fees of unlicensed patents that can be significant.
Rethink the Role of Tech Transfer
The pandemic has forced researchers to think outside the box in designing products with immediate benefit. This flurry of innovation productivity creates a new workflow for tech transfer with the added dimension of speed-to-market considerations. This dynamic offers TTO’s the opportunity to rethink their role as the traditional path to commercialization undergoes change.
We’ve seen greater focus on cross-functional approaches that repurpose on-the shelf technologies with rapid discovery as the outcome. Here are just a few of the many examples that capture our interest:
Hurry-up engineering has spurred the design of new ventilators that can be manufactured quickly at low cost. A decade-old design from MIT took flight as industry stepped up to solve manufacturing challenges and 3,000 ventilators were delivered in a matter of weeks with New York City acted as the risk-taking venture investor.
An alternative approach based on 3d printing saw the DOD collaborate with civilian partners to manufacture handheld ventilators that can easily be used in the field.
New models for academic/industry/federal partnerships that extend across national borders are driving the search for a vaccine. This mission challenges the fundamentals for how research is validated and shared. Yet as new discoveries are fast- tracked, IP protection will be put to the test.
Tech transfer has always been instrumental in moving new technologies to market. Now with the unusual impetus of a pandemic, we see great opportunity for TTO’s to enhance their role in supporting new collaborations to accelerate commercialization while at the same time putting their house in order to operate with greater efficiencies.