Governance typology of universities’ technology transfer processes

Abstract

Despite the growing interest in university-to-industry technology transfer, there are very few studies on the governance of universities’ technology transfer offices (TTOs). The few existing ones tend to focus on US universities and generally tackle one dimension of the governance. The present paper aims at contributing to this literature in two ways. First, it takes into account the diversity of organizational models with a theoretical perspective: the paper presents a discussion on which combinations of four structural dimensions should yield viable configurations. Four main types of TTOs are identified: (1) classical TTO; (2) autonomous TTO; (3) discipline-integrated Technology Transfer Alliance; and (4) discipline-specialized Technology Transfer Alliance. Second, the paper relies on 16 case studies of universities located in six European countries in order to address the pros and cons of the four types of TTOs. The results provide both a conceptual understanding and an empirical overview of how universities organize their technology transfer and intellectual property management.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Evidence of the direct effects of the Bayh-Dole Act on the growth of university patenting and licensing is limited. Empirical research by Mowery et al. (2001) challenges the assumption that the Bayh-Dole Act is the main influencing factor; other factors such as an increase in biotechnology research also play important roles.

  2. 2.

    The “professor’s privilege” means that researchers rather than the universities own the IP of the inventions generated by their research activities. As of November 2011, the professor’s privilege is still in force in Sweden and Italy. Opposing the overall trend, Italy introduced this model in 2005. However, even with Bayh-Dole Act-like regulations, many academic inventions are filed by third parties, which makes it difficult to assess the ‘productivity’ of universities (c.f. Saragossi et al. 2003).

  3. 3.

    See Siegel et al. (2007) for a more detailed overview of key studies on TTO effectiveness.

  4. 4.

    One might suggest taking all dimension into account for a comprehensive analytic framework, however, this would make the analysis very complex. From a scientific point of view it is crucial to reduce complexity.

  5. 5.

    Standardization and formalization are not considered because the former describes to what extend activities are fixed. Since the technology transfer process is already well defined in most of its dimensions, this structural dimension does not help to differentiate between types of TTOs’ organizational structure. Formalization denotes to which extent organizational rules are written down and filed.

  6. 6.

    Since TTAs (case K and L) are serving more than one university, figures related to the number of students are not specified.

  7. 7.

    Available at: http://www.interface.ulg.ac.be/docs/Proton21052010.pdf.

  8. 8.

    Available at: http://cemi.epfl.ch/files/content/sites/cemi/files/shared/research/CEMI-TTO-survey-2008.pdf.

  9. 9.

    Available at: http://www.astp.net/Survey/Summary_2007_ASTP_report.pdf.

  10. 10.

    In order to achieve comparability, the CEMI Survey was chosen; since the other two surveys also included in the target population other public research organizations. The survey was conducted in the summer of 2008, total 211 answers (59, 4% respond rate), and were obtained from TTOs located in Western Europe.

  11. 11.

    This number refers to the year 2007.

  12. 12.

    All TTOs in our sample are located in countries where institutional ownership system is in practice.

  13. 13.

    Available at: http://www.arwu.org/.

  14. 14.

    The degree of autonomy granted is operationalized along three criteria: (1) reporting directly to the Vice-Rector of research/innovation or similar authorities, (2) being independent from university administration regarding budget management, and (3) enjoying decision-making authority with respect to human resource management (e.g., specification of incentive schemes for TTO personnel and decisions regarding staff hiring).

  15. 15.

    For a more detailed discussion of the transfer process see, for example, Siegel et al. (2003).

  16. 16.

    Although faculty members are obliged to disclose their inventions, empirical research by Thursby et al. (2001), Siegel et al. (2003a, b), Saragossi et al. (2003), and Markman et al. (2008) indicate that many technologies are not disclosed to the TTO.

  17. 17.

    An inventor’s share in our sample varies from 25 to 85 %. Lach and Schankerman (2008) find an average inventor share of 39 and 42 % for 34 private and 68 public universities, respectively. They find that the form of royalty system is not significantly related to observed university characteristics.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the European Science Foundation (ESF-APE-INV) for support for this project. The authors are also grateful for comments received from the participants at the 2011 EPIP Conference in Brussels and the 2TS Conference in Augsburg. Moreover, we like to thank Florence Honoré and all interviewees for their support. Anja gratefully acknowledges the support of the TUM Graduate School at the Technische Universität München.

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Schoen, A., van Pottelsberghe de la Potterie, B. & Henkel, J. Governance typology of universities’ technology transfer processes. J Technol Transf 39, 435–453 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10961-012-9289-0

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Keywords

  • Technology transfer offices
  • Organizational structure
  • Governance
  • Academic patents

JEL Classification

  • L30
  • O31
  • O32
  • O34