UA 'roadmap' charts tech course

A little more than a year after announcing plans to overhaul its technology commercialization efforts, the University of Arizona has completed a document to guide the process.

“Tech Launch Arizona: Roadmap, 2013-2018,” released by the university, charts UA’s future course for capturing more revenue from in-house developed technologies and creating more collaborations with private industry.

“When we say technology transfer, we really are talking specifically about helping faculty to transfer their knowledge to benefit the broader society,” UA President Ann Weaver Hart said in an interview.

Hart said the traditional university approach to research has been more isolated, with institutions and academics conducting research for an audience of peers. But the approach and attitude toward research has begun to change, she said, and the focus on technology transfer exemplifies that.

The Roadmap document identifies four areas of improvements in technology transfer by 2020:

• Intellectual property income

• Number of patents issued

• New companies started

• Number of invention disclosures.

In each category, significant increases are planned.

In intellectual property revenue, for instance, the university wants to see annual increases to nearly $3.5 million up from slightly less than $2 million now.

Despite the planned changes, Tech Launch Arizona Executive Director David N. Allen said the core mission of faculty will not change.

“Our teams cannot commercialize anything but the best research,” Allen said.

Hart agreed, adding that traditional research would still make up an important function at the UA.

“We’re not setting up a situation where everyone has to have a personal interest (in technology commercialization),” Hart said, adding that some faculty members don’t work in areas that lend themselves to commercialization.

The Roadmap report also identified the need to add more staff positions to make technology transfer more feasible and provide support to faculty.

The report said technology licensing managers would need to be placed in various university colleges and institutes to help facilitate technology transfers.

Another way the university would seek to increase technology transfers would be to create an early stage funding plan to help spinoff companies get off the ground.

Allen said a feasibility study would need to be conducted to determine how the funding would occur.

He said the money for the fund would probably not come from the university’s budget or tuition revenue, but from private donors and other friends of the university. He speculated the fund, tentatively called CatFund, would dole out money in small increments up to about $200,000.

The Roadmap plan also notes that UA traditionally has not fared well in technology commercialization.

Weaknesses identified in the study include: “A long history of commercialization under performance and a weak pipeline of royalty producing licenses.”

Hart said that could be the result of not placing priority on technology transfers, even though the university is known as a major source of scientific research.

“No one has taken it on as a major area of importance for the university,” she said.

The university began to focus more heavily on technology transfer issues in the recent years.

In late 2011, then UA-interim president Eugene Sander announced plans to revamp the university’s technology transfer department.

Tech Launch Arizona was created as an umbrella organization to oversee the university’s technology commercialization, industry sponsored research and the technology parks.

After a national search, UA hired Allen in August 2012 to head Tech Launch Arizona. He had held a similar job at the University of Colorado.

Allen oversees the affiliated Office of Technology Transfer, Office of Corporate and Business Relations and the University Research Parks. Allen reports directly to President Hart.

UA Faculty Senate also has implemented new policies that place an emphasis on technology transfer and commercialization. A new promotion and tenure criteria for faculty will take into account translational research, technology commercialization and industry and community-based collaborations.

Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at pmcnamara@azbiz.com or (520) 295-4259.