What makes the best TTO and industry collaborators so successful at innovation?


Arundeep Pradhan, former president of the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), published on 14 August 2017 an article titled, “Licensing efficiency of academic technology transfer: are there better indicators?”

Observing data from the AUTM Licensing Activities Survey (ALAS) in 2015, Mr Pradhan concluded that “these figures show a steady increase in the overall activity—all numbers trend up, driven by increased research funding.”

However, he continued, taking the survey at face value may not paint a fully accurate picture. 

In an alternative analysis, he collected data spanning 14 years (from 2000-2014) and normalised it against the full-time equivalent staff (FTEs) in TTOs. He explained, "One way to gauge the efficacy of a TTO is to normalise licensing activities to FT, to get a different perspective and new insights.” 

This, he believed, would be a more effective approach to normalisation than benchmarking metrics by “per million dollars of research” (as universities typically do). 

Looking at the efficiency of TTOs through this lens, he concluded the data shows some disturbing trends”:

  1. It looks as though we are not doing any better in the rate of executing licence agreements in 2014 than we were in 2000
  2. The total number of licences per invention disclosure decreased significantly over 15 years
  3. The number of exclusive licences and options per FTE also decreased

This suggests TTOs are getting worse at turning higher inputs of resources, into higher outputs of commercial opportunity. 

At PatSnap, we’ve interviewed a pair of experts—one from industry and the other from academia—about how TTOs and businesses can increase the efficacy of their collaboration. We spoke to: 

  1. Tom Ilube, an established force in the world of industry-academia collaboration. Having founded and led several technology companies—which involved collaborating with the inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners Lee—Mr Ilube delved into the world of tech transfer for cybersecurity.

  2. Dr Robin Knight, a pioneer in the application of technology to the process of tech transfer. An accomplished academic with a PhD in Immunology, Dr Knight noticed a gap in the ability of university TTOs to easily and scalably access every company that might be interested in their research outputs. 

Based on our interview with these experts, we’ve created the “Technology Transfer Winner’s Blueprint: For Businesses and Academic Institutions”.

Technology Transfer TTO strategy eBook

We’ve also summarised below their 5 top tips for improving tech transfer efficacy. 

5 Top tips for businesses and academic institutions to increase tech transfer efficacy

 Robin says:

Look beyond the obvious…

Firstly, to find the right technology for your needs and the right university, you probably need to look further afield than those who you assume might be the best partner, cast your net wide. Likewise, don’t let distance be a prohibitive factor—technology continues to make the distance between collaborators shorter and shorter. It’s a global sport."

Manage expectations...

“Secondly, the management of expectations issue—businesses have to be prepared for what the university is looking to get out of an engagement. And that is largely that their technology is going to be used to impact society. But they also want ongoing strategic partnerships. So, they want a clear line of communication thereafter. They want to make sure that there could be the possibility of grants and funding off the back of their partnership.”


Tom says:

Become part of the community…

Firstly, I would say spend a lot of time building the relationships with your researchers, with your academic partners. Get to know the tech transfer people, but focus on the actual principal researchers themselves, and recognize that they have relationships with each other. So, you can't go and talk to one academic and say one thing, and then try and do something completely different with another academic—even from a different institution—because they all talk to each other. So, you need to become part of that community and sort of respected by that community." 

It’s not all about money…

“Secondly, I think you have to bring something more to the party than just money. There isn't a shortage of money in the UK for doing start-up stuff. There are all sorts of schemes to fund things here and there. And, therefore, you're going to have to bring more than just cash to the party.”

Be patient...

“Finally, you do have to be patient about it. This isn't one of those areas where you create an app, and it goes viral, and you're done in a year's time. It's just not that sort of game. Each of these spin-outs or licensing deals that you do will take three years to find their feet and get traction. And then they'll take another couple of years to get to scale and so forth. So, I've done a lot of startups over the years, and overnight successes generally take about seven years...”


Click the image below to download the full eBook

  • Case studies of technology transfer success stories
  • Interviews with experts from industry and academia
  • Pointers as to how tech transfer works in the cybersecurity sector
  • Insight from ex-president of Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM)
  • Visualisations of intellectual property data, revealing tech transfer patterns

eBook TTO expert tips