Universities expect their technology transfer offices (TTO) to deliver a return on the massive investment that research requires. Traditionally, this ROI was measured solely using the number of disclosures, patent applications, granted patents, license agreements, and startups a TTO facilitated during a specific time period, as well as the resulting income from these activities. These numbers may have been compared using ratios, allowing a TTO to showcase how effectively the university’s innovations became protected, licensable IP.
These technology transfer metrics fail to recognize some of the other, more nuanced factors contributing to TTO ROI.
Measuring Return on Investment
Fully capturing the value of an efficient, effective TTO requires metrics that reflect the wide range of responsibilities TTOs are asked to carry out.
Measure Success Throughout the Pipeline
Successful technology transfer is most obvious after a technology is licensed. However, establishing metrics that gauge success throughout the pipeline can help a TTO demonstrate ongoing excellence. Material transfer agreements (MTAs) and confidential disclosure agreements (CDAs) can help predict future licensing agreements and income. Clinical trials also indicate an innovation’s future commercial viability.
Consider Nontraditional Metrics
While disclosures, patent applications, granted patents, license agreements, and startup are important metrics, there are other data points that capture the benefits a TTO offers to both its institution and region. For a more complete understanding of TTO ROI, universities can consider documenting:
- Industry partnerships, including sponsored research agreements (SRAs) and synergistic licensing partners.
- Whether or not their patent portfolio is used to its fullest potential.
- The quantity and quality of the faculty and students their research programs attract.
- How their research programs and TTOs prepare students for innovative careers.
- Faculty members’ impact as consultants in the region.
- How many jobs licenced technology creates, both at startups and established businesses.
- The value and recognition of their brand among potential industry partners.
Eliminate Skewed Data
Outliers can reduce the usefulness of any dataset, including the metrics used to measure the success of a technology transfer office. When a single patent results in the majority of an office’s licensing revenue, including it in analysis can skew results. Comparing fundamental and applied research can also lead to unrealistic expectations. By definition, applied research is closer to commercialization and is, therefore, more likely to demonstrate ROI when judged using metrics designed to capture successful technology transfer.