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competition, and our institutional character
When the focus shifts to the bottom line,
basic research always takes a hit.
Bagley, Assistant Professor of Law
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
Liotta is a co-inventor of Coviricil, an antiviral compound that
has been shown in clinical trials to be effective in the treatment
of the AIDS and hepatitis B infections. As Emory's Vice President
for Research from 1996 to 1999, he was a leading advocate for
Exchange How do you think technology
transfer is changing the academy?
Professor Dennis Liotta In my view, it expands the nature of research
universities and what we're capable of doing. For example, in
the sciences, when we have an idea we believe could eventually
be developed into a product or service that could benefit society,
we're very limited in how far we can take it unless we involve
the commercial sector. Technology transfer provides a mechanism
for extending our ability to create and disseminate what we produce
in the university. Actually, technology transfer is just a subset
of knowledge transfer. That's our business. The university is
already in many aspects a business; we should stop pretending
that it isn't.
If universities want to be important players in solving social
problems, then they must obtain intellectual property protection
on important discoveries. Otherwise, they will never be developed.
For example, it costs three to five hundred million dollars on
average to develop a drug. No company would take that kind of
risk unless it possessed sufficient intellectual property protection
to ensure at least several years of exclusivity in selling that
do you respond to the concern that it might prevent knowledge-
sharing and collaboration among scientists?
Once you seek patent protection, there are really no barriers
to publishing immediately afterward. In a legal sense, a public
presentation constitutes a public disclosure and therefore would
limit your abilities to get intellectual property protection.
Don't publish first and then try to patent. You've done yourself
and the university a disservice. Patent it first.
Do you believe there has been a shift of emphasis from collaboration
to competition in academic science?
Scientists are inherently competitive. In the sponsored research
world, even if you exclude technology transfer, it's naive to
think that there's not already plenty of competition.
Technology transfer is just a different kind of competition.
I think that these concerns are overblown by people who don't
fully understand what's involved in both sponsored research and
in technology transfer. While technology transfer certainly involves
some restrictions, I don't see it as a major paradigm shift relative
to what we have right now.
Another concern is that commercial forces might warp priorities
away from basic science and toward more market-oriented research.
who accept faculty positions at research universities are generally
passionate about their research. There's always going to be a
subset of these individuals who, for a variety of reasons, want
to pursue a commercialization opportunity.
In my own case, I became involved in aids research ten years
ago because of a deep sense of a responsibility to use whatever
scientific skills I had to help relieve the suffering caused
by this terrible disease. In order to do that, I had to spend
time working on development aspects as opposed to just doing
basic research. This actually had a salutary effect on my lab,
however. We started doing science in a slightly different way-and
I think a better way-and we started being a little bit more cognizant
of some real-world parameters that made the choice of projects
that we focused on better. The projects had high-quality science,
but they also had relevance to real-world problems.
Just think: if technology transfer produces a new revenue stream
for my lab and for the university, then I'd be able to use it
to do the high-risk, highly speculative research that at present
is difficult to fund. And the administration could use its share
of revenues to enhance teaching and scholarship across all segments
of the university.
Do you see financial incentives as a major motivating factor
for faculty, rather than the passionate pursuit of science?
There are both tangible and intangible motivators. Unless there
are incentives for faculty to do the enormous amount of work
that it takes to bring a product or service to the marketplace,
it will never be developed. On the other hand, if I had enough
funds to do whatever I wanted, that could badly skew the system.
Obviously, several important questions remain unanswered.