Join the discussion
competition, and our institutional character
transfer is just a subset of knowledge transfer.
Liotta, Samuel Candler Dobbs 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
The Academic Exchange
In what ways has your work been affected by technology
transfer--that is, the delivery of academic ideas into the marketplace?
Lanny Liebeskind My answers to your questions
should first be placed in context. I have experienced the technology
transfer process first-hand with three different projects in
the past five to six years. Although each of these projects represents
only a small intellectual subset of my overall research effort,
the time and effort involved shepherding each of these through
the technology transfer system have been significant.
How has my work been affected? On the positive
side, I have learned much about the process of technology transfer,
patenting, and licensing. I have learned first-hand about fundamental
philosophical differences that exist between the business community
and the academy, and about the difficulties associated with any
attempt to merge the two. Since all knowledge is valuable, this
has been a positive aspect of the experience. On the downside,
technology transfer is fraught with many potential hazards, not
the least of which is a real or perceived conflict of interest.
Technology transfer requires a great investment of time and effort
that are unrelated to scholarship. If creative time is a zero-sum
game, something precious has been lost and will never be recovered.
Furthermore, once you travel down the technology transfer path,
there is an underlying temptation to view much of scholarship
in terms of patenting opportunities. This mentality warps the
scholarly culture of the university. To protect the latter, discipline,
good judgment, and administrative oversight are essential.
do you think the role of technology transfer will be in the future
of the university? Do you think it offers a solution to the funding
crisis in higher education, or is it distracting the academy
from its research mission?
the absence of a strong administrative mandate to the contrary,
technology transfer will become increasingly prevalent in university
settings in the future. A subset of faculty members will be lured
by the possibility of profiting, both personally and institutionally,
from the intellectual property and know-how generated within
If technology transfer offers a solution to the
funding crisis in higher education, it does so only in a very
limited way. Yes, there are and will be rare lucrative exceptions
to the statement, but much of technology transfer is a time-consuming
process with modest financial benefits. Patents alone do not
make money for the university; they only serve to prevent others
from profiting from the universityís intellectual property.
To profit from the patent, a willing and competent licensee is
needed, and in order to bring intellectual property through the
complete patenting/licensing process, a significant investment
of a faculty member's time and energy is required. This results
in a very significant, non-financial "cost" to the
university, since the process of technology transfer must distract
a faculty member from the primary obligations of teaching, research,
and service. Even if those obligations are faithfully carried
out, we must ask if they are carried out at the same level of
excellence and with the same attention to detail that would occur
in the absence of the "distraction"?
do you think about the concern for the fate of the basic sciences
as increasing emphasis is placed on research that can easily
be applied beyond the university?
concern is real and significant. The natural sciences of universities
across the country are experiencing a culture shift from the
"Professor-Scholar" to a "Professor-Entrepreneur"
model. This is happening, in part, because of the freedoms inherent
within the university setting, and because of a perception of
financial rewards by some faculty and administrators. For these
reasons I donít think the culture shift will stop (at
least in the absence of a university mandate to the contrary),
and I am concerned that we will immutably change the culture
of the university if we are not vigilant, thoughtful, and disciplined
in managing this shift.
In true scholarship, knowledge is freely disseminated;
in entrepreneurship knowledge is a valuable commodity that is
protected (patented) and bartered (licensed). These are disparate
functions that cannot both be easily carried out within an academic
institution without jeopardizing our intellectual integrity to
some extent. If they are both part of the university operations,
how do we ensure that the scholarly mission of the university
is protected from the "bottom line" pressures that
a shift toward professorial entrepreneurship will exert on University
practices and policies?
It is essential to understand that the most important
and world-changing scientific discoveries are not of an applied
nature, but are fundamental. It is only later that useful applications
evolve from these fundamental discoveries in ways that cannot
be foreseen before the fundamental discoveries are made. If University
professors spend most of their creative time and effort on applied
research (doing what can be and is done in industry), who will
make the fundamental discoveries?
transfer often seems tainted with the suggestion of conflict
of interest--professors holding equity in businesses related
to their federally funded research, dual commitments to start-up
companies and faculty work. Have you encountered such conflicts
in your work? Do you have thoughts on how to resolve them?
I have worked hard to avoid conflicted situations, I have encountered
such conflicts within my own work. In fact, I have come to believe
that it is almost impossible to engage in technology transfer
within the university without a conflict of interest. Why? Even
in the unlikely event that there is no financial conflict, there
will very likely be a conflict of commitment. Faculty members
appointed for full-time service by the university are expected
to devote their time and energy primarily to teaching, service,
and scholarship, and implicit in the appointment is a personal
commitment to seek knowledge and to freely disseminate that knowledge
to society. Time and energy spent on technology transfer and
with start-up companies is time and energy not spent on the primary
obligations that we are hired to fulfill.
However, an acknowledged conflict of interest need
not necessarily prevent technology transfer from proceeding.
With oversight from appropriate impartial parties, the conflict
can be carefully and regularly managed. If need be, an oversight
committee can diminish a faculty memberís involvement
in a technology transfer situation, or terminate it completely
if the conflict is deemed unmanageable.
What can be done? If we believe that the University
can and should benefit monetarily from the intellectual property
and know-how of its faculty, the principle challenge is to find
a way to reap the rewards that accrue from intellectual property
without jeopardizing or corrupting the scholarly mission the
university. I see a two-fold solution to the problem. The units
of the university (the College and professional schools) should
provide and distribute a clear philosophy on technology transfer
to the faculty. Are the Deans highly supportive of, ambivalent
toward, or opposed to their faculty being involved in technology
transfer? For either of the first two philosophical positions,
well thought out regulations, policies and procedures must be
in place. But, these are always subject to personal interpretation,
and in fact, rules and regulations do not enhance the scholarly
ethos of the University. Rather, they often represent a framework
through which loopholes are sought. Perhaps more importantly,
I would constantly communicate the following mission statement
to the faculty of the university:
In addition to teaching, a principle mission of
the faculty is scholarship ñ the discovery and free dissemination
of knowledge. When this principle mission drives the actions
and intentions of the faculty, the University is functioning
well and its actions are above reproach. A principle mission
of the faculty is not the pursuit of new knowledge for the purpose
of developing intellectual property of commercial value. Given
this difference, a natural tension exists between scholarship
and entrepreneurship. Technology transfer can bring clear value
to the University, BUT it should do so only when it is a secondary,
not the primary consequence of scholarship. This must be clearly
communicated and constantly reinforced.
Therefore, on a regular and recurring basis, I
would encourage the Deans to persuade their Chairs to ask their
faculty to evaluate their actions and intentions in terms of
the scholarly mission of the University. I would confront the
issue of intellectual property head-on, openly acknowledging
its value to the University, but clearly defining its role as
a secondary consequence of scholarship. Constant reinforcement
of these ideals, through word and deed, will affect the Emory
ethos in a most positive and lasting way.