Join the discussion
competition, and our institutional character
transfer is just a subset of knowledge transfer.
Liotta, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Chemistry
New: "If technology transfer
offers a solution to the funding crisis in higher education,
it does so only in a very limited way."
interview with Lanny Liebeskind, Professor of Chemistry
me the money . . .
licensing income and patents from Emory and other institutions
is applied research?
does funding work in the sciences?
from Stanley Chodorow, CEO of the California Virtual University
and former provost of the University of Pennsylvania
Academic Exchange December
1999/January 2000 Contents Page
Bagley is a patent attorney. Also a chemical engineer, she has
worked as a researcher both in the corporate sector and for national
laboratories. She is a co-inventor on a patent for reduced-fat
Exchange How should technology
transfer work ideally?
Bagley In a perfect world, agreements
would allow scientists to collaborate and share knowledge, receive
credit for their role in the invention, and create and divide
the profits. Some of the profits from these inventions would
fund basic research. There would be access to patented technologies
to further research at a low cost, and companies would share
resources with universities in this wonderful synergistic exchange
that would spur innovation and provide exciting new and needed
products to the marketplace. With increased funding, there would
also be more programs introducing elementary and high school
students to the wonders of science, engineering, and, of course,
basic research. Universities would be able to do more of the
things they should be doing because they would have more money.
But that's in a perfect world. I can see the tensions between
sharing knowledge and wanting to protect what you're inventing
for patenting and marketing purposes.
AE Can you elaborate on those tensions?
MB One concern
is collaboration and knowledge sharing. The idea in the academy
is that we are all working together in pursuit of knowledge.
But when you start thinking about your research as not just patentable
but marketable and about the idea of licensing revenues, etc.,
then collaboration may be inhibited-or the collaboration has
to be a lot more structured. In a sense this is what is happening
now. In college, I spent one summer at Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory, which today touts the fact that it has been partnering
with industry for over fifty years, but now the relationships
are more structured. With an increased focus on commercialization
of inventions, you get into issues of inventorship and ownership.
A collaborator from a partnering entity may see a patent issue
and say, Wait a minute. I contributed to that, and I'm not listed
as an inventor and my organization is not an assignee.
Then there is the issue of
access to basic research tools that are being patented. Universities
may now have to pay for licenses to use technology that in times
past would not have been patented. Some people argue that for
some inventions perhaps a for-profit venture would pay royalties
and fees, but a not-for-profit would not. Is that a good idea?
Should certain inventions be free for everyone to use? If so,
and if we minimize or eliminate the incentive provided by patent
protection, are we going to continue to get all of these great
Do you think the real incentive for academic research is financial?
MB No, as a former
scientific researcher I believe the real incentive is to know
more, learn more. Academic researchers could probably make quite
a bit more money in industry if that was their prime objective.
But I do think financial concerns are increasing in importance.
One of the goals of our patent system is to stimulate innovation
by granting to inventors the right, for a limited time, to exclude
others from making, using, selling, or offering to sell their
invention while making the information publicly available so
others can build on those ideas. And it works. The United States
patent system has definitely played a role in our achievement
of the standard of living and technological advancements we now
enjoy. From one standpoint, technology transfer may seem to limit
the advancement of knowledge, but when you step back, you see
the whole idea of the patent system is to encourage innovation.
AE Do you think basic research will survive the
alliance between business and the academy?
MB For our long-term success, it must survive.
Certainly in corporations, when the focus shifts to the bottom
line, basic research always takes a hit. I would hate to see
something similar happen in the university setting: basic research
taking on a second-class rank because it doesn't clearly generate
I am by no means an expert
on these issues, but if we're concerned about protecting basic
research, I believe there are things we can do to protect it.
Use very lucrative projects to fund basic research. Provide incentives
to researchers in such areas. Reward collaboration. Tech-nology
transfer is here to stay, but we can find a balance, so that
it doesn't drive the academic research agenda. Boundaries need
to be set so that the mission of the academy remains in focus
and we still have a place for the free sharing of knowledge and