Frequently Asked Questions

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Technology transfer is a term used to describe a formal transfer of rights to use and commercialize new discoveries and innovations resulting from scientific research to another party. In layman’s terms — universities typically transfer technology to industry for commercial development through the disclosure of innovations, patenting the innovation concurrent with publication of scientific research and licensing the rights to innovations. The definition has now expanded as today’s technology transfer professionals are responsible for a wider array of duties including corporate engagement, internal development of inventions, new company formation, and overall economic development.

Academic technology transfer adds billions of dollars to the U.S. economy and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs. It contributes to the spawning of new businesses, creating new industries and opening new markets. Most important, technology transfer from universities to the commercial sector has led to new products and services that improve quality of life. From new cancer treatments to faster modems, from environmentally friendly metal processing to disease-resistant apples, technology transfer from academic institutions is advancing the way we live and work. Explore AUTM’s Better World Project for examples of the benefits of academic technology transfer.

Technology transfer benefits also include a university's ability to retain entrepreneurial faculty, attract outstanding graduate students, contribute to the institutional reputation for innovation, augment its research program through interaction with the private sector and enhance its reputation for providing highly trained students for the industrial workforce.
The simple answer is yes. For example, before 1980, fewer than 250 patents were issued to U.S. universities each year and discoveries were seldom commercialized for the public's benefit. In contrast, in fiscal year 2016, AUTM reported that 7,021 U.S. patents were issued, 7,730 new licenses and options were executed, 16,487 U.S. patent applications were filed, 1,024 start-ups were formed and 800 new commercial products were developed.
The success in university technology transfer and the resulting economic and health benefits, is the direct result of the passage of the bipartisan Bayh-Dole Act in 1980. Co-sponsored by Senators Birch Bayh (D-IN) and Robert Dole (R-KS), this Act enables universities, non-profit research institutions and small businesses to own and patent inventions developed under federally funded research programs that previously passed immediately into the public domain. The provisions of the act provided incentive for universities to protect their innovations and, therefore, for industry to make high-risk investments resulting in products made from those innovations.
When industries license technologies from universities it creates collaborative partnerships that move new discoveries from the laboratory to the marketplace. These continued partnerships enable researchers to further developments and significantly reduce the time to actual commercialization — ultimately bringing thousands of products and services to market through this partnership.
Revenues from licensing activities by academic institutions are shared with the creators of the technology according to the individual institution's policies and used to help advance scientific research and education through reinvestment in the academic enterprise. The revenues held by the university are typically distributed to university research departments for graduate research assistants, new equipment or funding for new or follow-on research activities, to name a few. Universities also use revenues to help sustain the technology transfer process by paying for a portion of the patent and licensing legal fees and the marketing and management staff.
As the thousands of license agreements executed mature, they are likely to continue to yield several hundred new products each year, over a thousand start-up companies annually and the many jobs created through those newly formed companies.

An increase in the number of licensed products on the market means an increase in the billions of dollars in sales revenue along with the creation of new companies, therefore stimulating pre-production investment in academic inventions. Thus, without knowing exactly which products will become available or which companies, AUTM can still expect to report a growing portfolio and growing public benefit and economic impact.

For more information, see our AUTM Licensing Activity Surveys.