Maryann Feldman, Madeleine Gates, Minoli Ratnatunga
Technology transfers – or sharing the results of research that leads to innovation – are an essential fuel for the economic growth of state economies. A better understanding the technology transfer activities in each state helps governors, state agencies and state legislatures – the ultimate guardians of economic development – to make informed decisions about the future.
The summaries in this report provide leaders with state-by-state data and analyses on tech transfer activities that can inform economic policy decisions. The summaries lean heavily on “Research to Renewal,”¹ a comprehensive report on the transfer activities of universities across the United States. This report, however, includes two new comparisons: a ranking of state university systems and a ranking of non-university institutions that conduct research and transfer technology.
There is no uniform reporting convention to the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM). Some public university systems report aggregated data for all their constituent institutions, while individual campuses report separately in other states. We created synthetic systems using available data so that we could make better comparisons and rank university systems. This information enables policymakers to assess how their state systems compare.
Also, several nonuniversity institutions conduct research and transfer technology. Hospitals and medical centers, dedicated research facilities and government labs report to AUTM but are not directly comparable to universities because they lack students. Thus, we ranked them separately on a subset of our metrics. Nonuniversity research institutions that are engaged in tech transfer are another important component of a state’s innovative ecosystem.
It is not possible with the data available to rank states, and such a ranking would be counter-productive. We hope to encourage greater participation by public institutions, and increased participation by those that are new to formal tech transfer would have the reverse effect of bringing down overall state performance. Rather than judging a beauty contest, this report presents data that is useful for improving technology transfer and increasing the impact of universities and research institutions on their states’ economies. We analyze multiple indicators in which policymakers may decide to invest and may consider organizational improvements to improve performance. We provide data for all institutions in each state that reported to AUTM and summarizes technology transfer activity for all the reporting institutions by state.
The recommendations in this report focus on public institutions for three reasons:
- They are directly accountable to state governments. Private schools receive state funding and subsidies and are certainly subject to state laws, but they have greater accountability to their trustees and other constituencies than to state governments.
- Every state has fiduciary responsibility for its public institutions. Many states host at least one flagship research university, while other public institutions are distributed geographically and serve different constituencies.
- Many public institutions fall short of their potential on multiple measures of tech transfer performance. Realizing the promise of technology-based economic development requires attention to these deficiencies.
While these rankings and the data behind them paint a portrait of technology transfers from these institutions, they also provide information about the resources that are available to further economic development in each state. Those opportunities can be summarized in the following recommendations:
- Renew the promise of innovation-driven economic growth in the United States through investments in scientific and technological innovation. Industry throughout the U.S. needs to be revitalized and infused with the new ideas that academic research can provide. This priority is reflected in the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act (CHIPS), which is a once-in-a-generation investment aimed at increasing American semiconductor production, decreasing supply chain vulnerabilities and revitalizing American leadership in science and technology. CHIPS will not only increase federal funding for academic research; it will also create demand for research to achieve its goals.
- State government and university officials need to work together to strategically invest and deploy resources. Public universities depend on state funding to provide research and teaching infrastructure, physical plants, faculty salaries and student aid. State funding can be leveraged to increase the geographic spread of federal research funding and create opportunities for students and faculty to be more engaged with local industry. There are opportunities to initiate new bachelors and graduate programs in partnerships with local industry that would provide gainful employment and enable graduates to stay in the region. State government should invest in creating entrepreneurial ecosystems aimed at commercializing the results of scientific research through technology transfer that will create well-paying jobs. In contrast to offering relocation incentives, investing in university ecosystems provides opportunity for residents.
- Bolster technology transfer out of regional university research-based centers of excellence. Every university has the potential to actively engage in technology transfer, and there is potential for every university to further engage with external organizations and increase their impact on commercial and nonprofit activity. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 mandated universities to commercialize their discoveries but did not provide resources to do so. It is no surprise that universities demonstrating greater formal technology transfer success are well funded, while other programs struggle.² Recognizing the importance of commercialization success, state governors might provide funding to technology-licensing organizations as an economic development initiative.
- Encourage reporting and accountability. Greater participation in the AUTM survey by public institutions would provide additional diagnostic information. For state university systems, reporting for each individual institution—rather than for the aggregate system—would allow for greater comparison and learning between institutions of similar size.
- Pool invention disclosures and patents. Pooling invention disclosures and patents for universities without a critical mass of intellectual property (IP) allows tech transfer professionals to be shared and for the creation of synergies across institutions, as IP from multiple institutions is managed together. Pools could be based on regional considerations or technology specialization and could help smooth licensing income over time.
- Increase technology transfer efficiency by adopting best practices. State policies should create incentives for adopting best practices in commercialization at technology licensing offices (TLOs). This would help narrow the efficiency gaps we identified in the universities outside the top 25 in our Technology Transfer and Commercialization Index. In heartland states, governors and legislatures should advocate for making commercialization a core mission of universities and form consortiums to exchange information and adopt best practices. Innovative educational programs should reinforce the advantages of local industry.
- Use alumni foundation investments as venture capital. Alumni foundations and higher-education retirement funds could allocate more of their portfolios to venture capital funds pooled across states to diversify risks while making such funds more available to startup firms.
1) Feldman, M., Gates, M., Ratnatunga, M., DeVol, R., & Shideler, D., (2022, May 6). “Research to Renewal: Advancing University Tech Transfer.” Heartland Forward, https://heartlandforward.org/case-study/research-to-renewal-advancing-university-tech-transfer/
2) Well-funded private universities and those publics that have benefited from a home-run invention have the highest rankings in our prior report.Download the report