University Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer: Volume 16


Table of contents

(13 chapters)

We review and synthesize the burgeoning literature on institutions and agents engaged in the commercialization of university-based intellectual property. These studies indicate that institutional incentives and organizational practices play an important role in enhancing the effectiveness of technology transfer. We conclude that university technology transfer should be considered from a strategic perspective. Institutions that choose to stress the entrepreneurial dimension of technology transfer need to address skill deficiencies in technology transfer offices, reward systems that are inconsistent with enhanced entrepreneurial activity, and education/training for faculty members, post-docs, and graduate students relating to interactions with entrepreneurs. Business schools at these universities can play a major role in addressing these skill and educational deficiencies through the delivery of targeted programs to technology licensing officers and members of the campus community wishing to launch startup firms.

Academic entrepreneurship (defined in this case as the involvement of university faculty and researchers in commercial development of their inventions) has been a unique characteristic of the U.S. higher education system for most of the past 100 years. This long history of interaction, as well as academic patenting and licensing, contributed to the formation of the political coalitions that led to the passage of the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980. This paper reviews the evidence on university–industry interactions and technology transfer, focusing in particular on the role of the Bayh-Dole Act in (allegedly) transforming this relationship. I also examine recent research that considers the Act's effects on the formation of new, knowledge-based firms that seek to exploit university inventions. This research is in its infancy, and much remains to be done if we are to better understand the relationships among high-technology entrepreneurship, the foundation of new firms, and the patenting and licensing activities of U.S. universities before and after 1980.

The prevailing theories of entrepreneurship have typically revolved around the ability of individuals to recognize opportunities and act on them by starting new ventures. This has generated a literature asking why entrepreneurial behavior varies across individuals with different characteristics, while implicitly holding the external context in which the individual finds oneself to be constant. Thus, where the opportunities come from, or the source of entrepreneurial opportunities, are also implicitly taken as given. By contrast, we provide a theory identifying at least one source of entrepreneurial opportunity – new knowledge and ideas that are not fully commercialized by the organization actually investing in the creation of that knowledge. The knowledge spillover theory of entrepreneurship holds individual characteristics as given, but lets the context vary. In particular, high knowledge contexts are found to generate more entrepreneurial opportunities, where the entrepreneur serves as a conduit for knowledge spillovers. By contrast, impoverished knowledge contexts are found to generate fewer entrepreneurial opportunities. By serving as a conduit for knowledge spillovers, entrepreneurship is the missing link between investments in new knowledge and economic growth. Thus, the knowledge spillover theory of entrepreneurship provides not just an explanation of why entrepreneurship has become more prevalent as the factor of knowledge has emerged as a crucial source for comparative advantage, but also why entrepreneurship plays a vital role in generating economic growth. Entrepreneurship is an important mechanism permeating the knowledge filter to facilitate the spillover of knowledge, and ultimately generating economic growth.

The debate about university technology transfer policy would benefit from increased attention to two parts of the technology transfer equation: the societal purpose of basic scientific research and the characteristics of scientific researchers.11This Chapter was prepared for the Colloquium on University Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer hosted by the Karl Eller Center of the University of Arizona and sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. I am grateful to them for their support. I am also grateful to the participants in the Colloquium for helpful comments. Finally, I thank my research assistant, David Zelner, for assistance with this project. One purpose of curiosity-driven research is to provide a demand function that can serve as a proxy for the socially optimal (but unknowable) demand function for the unpredictable research that is necessary for long-term technological progress. Preserving the curiosity-driven research peer review “market” is thus important for that progress. This analysis highlights the importance of adequate funding for curiosity-driven research. A model of typical university scientists’ preferences can be used to assess how technology transfer policies may affect the social norms of the research community and the long-term viability of the curiosity-driven research endeavor. The analysis suggests that patenting will be an ineffective technology transfer mechanism unless researchers are precluded from using patenting to maintain control over follow-on research.

The burgeoning interest over the last decade in technology transfer at universities in the United States has driven contentious debates over patent policy. In this context, biotech patenting has become the poster-child for claims that the proliferation of patenting by universities, and in the private sector, is undermining scientific norms and threatening innovation. Commentators have expressed particular fears about the negative effects of biotech patenting on the public information commons and concerns about emerging “patent anticommons.” This chapter argues that the standard (finite) commons model is being misapplied in the biotech arena because, owing to the complexity of biological processes and the power of existing biotech methods to produce genetic data, biomedical science is, in crucial respects, an unbounded, uncongested common resource. These findings imply that strategic biotech patenting of problem-specific research tools (i.e., single-nucleotide polymorphisms, drug targets) is not economically justified and therefore is irrational.

Universities face incredibly difficult, complex decisions concerning the degree to which they participate in the process of commercializing research. The U.S. government has made an explicit policy decision to allow funded entities to obtain patents and thereby has encouraged participation in the commercialization of federally funded research. The Bayh-Dole Act enables universities to participate in the commercialization process, but it does not obligate or constrain them to pursue any particular strategy with respect to federally funded research. Universities remain in the driver's seat and must decide carefully the extent to which they wish to participate in the commercialization process.The conventional view of the role of patents in the university research context is that patent-enabled exclusivity improves the supply-side functioning of markets for university research results as well as those markets further downstream for derivative commercial end-products. Both the reward and commercialization theories of patent law take patent-enabled exclusivity as the relevant means for fixing a supply-side problem – essentially, the undersupply of private investment in the production of patentable subject matter or in the development and commercialization of patentable subject matter that would occur in the absence of patent-enabled exclusivity.While the supply-side view of the role of patents in the university research context is important, a view from the demand side is needed to fully appreciate the role of patents in the university research context and to fully inform university decisions about the extent to which they wish to participate in the commercialization process. Introducing patents into the university research system, along with a host of other initiatives aimed at tightening the relationship between universities and industry, is also (if not primarily) about increasing connectivity between university science and technology research systems and the demands of industry for both university research outputs (research results and human capital) and upstream infrastructural capital necessary to produce such outputs.In this chapter, I explore how university science and technology research systems perform economically as infrastructural capital and explain how these systems generate social value. I explain how the availability of patents, coupled with decreased government funding, may lead to a slow and subtle shift in the allocation of infrastructure resources.

In this chapter we provide a general overview of the university licensing process and its dramatic growth over the past decade. We then discuss the role faculty play in commercialization through the licensing process. Concerns have been voiced in recent years over the possibility that the recent growth in university licensing suggests that the traditional role of faculty in the generation of “basic” research results – as well, possibly, as their role in “open science” – has been compromised. We discuss the available evidence for this downside to faculty licensing. Finally, we consider several impediments to the licensing process.

University inventions are increasingly transferred to industry by market mechanisms involving licensing and start-up ventures. This chapter explores the ways in which entrepreneurship education can benefit the professionals involved in this process. We focus on graduate education since the professions typically involved require one or more graduate degrees, such as the Doctor of Philosophy in the case of scientists and engineers or professional degrees such as the Master of Business Administration or Doctor of Jurisprudence in the case of business professionals or attorneys. Introducing entrepreneurship education to graduate programs presents a challenge since graduate education is highly structured. We present a model that preserves the in-depth disciplinary structure of degree programs while bringing Ph.D. students in science and engineering together with MBA and JD students to explore the interface of technology, business, and legal issues in commercialization of the science and engineering student's research.

We examine the challenges of commercialization of university-developed technology and the synergistic relationship of the university's technology transfer office with business-school-based entrepreneurship education programs. We postulate that business schools can effectively augment the university technology transfer office in developing and growing successful startups, through catalyzing the process of startup creation and by actively assisting in the formation of multi-disciplinary leadership teams for spinout companies. The assistance of the business school's alumni and entrepreneur networks can also be leveraged for both mentoring and investment. The challenges of an effective program include securing early marketing input, building effective leadership teams, negotiating the terms of technology licenses, and developing the enthusiasm and cooperation of faculty researchers. At Carnegie Mellon, we have developed an integrated entrepreneurship education program focused on opportunity recognition and strategy development, team building and leadership development, and resource acquisition and allocation. Our program actively assists in launching and supporting the resulting spinout companies by connecting entrepreneurs with value-added investors, support networks, and partners. In addition, we monitor and mentor the spinout companies through their startup and growth stages. Our program includes an aggressive cross-campus initiative in which we teach entrepreneurship courses in the science, engineering, and computer science schools (in addition to the business school) and conduct seminar series to reach faculty and graduate students within those areas of the university. We are aided in the program by the enlightened technology transfer policies that Carnegie Mellon adopted in 2001. The rationale and objectives of those policies are explained in a lengthy appendix. We illustrate the effectiveness of the model through discussion of three recent spinout companies. We conclude that university entrepreneurship education programs can significantly enhance the effectiveness of university technology transfer programs. To optimize that result, the entrepreneurship education program should extend beyond the walls of the business school and should actively assist in the creation of well thought-out business plans and the formation of well-balanced leadership teams actively monitored and mentored by the business school and its alumni and entrepreneur networks. Additionally, it is necessary to tailor the program to the specific character and needs of the region.

Both entrepreneurship education and commercialization of university research have witnessed remarkable growth in the past two decades. These activities may be complementary in many respects, as when participation in an entrepreneurship program prepares a student to start a company based on university technology, or when technology transfer personnel provide resources and expertise for an entrepreneurship course. At the same time, however, the activities are distinct along a number of dimensions, including goals and mission, influence of market conditions, time horizon, assessment, and providers and constituency. We argue that this situation presents an organizational dilemma: How should entrepreneurship and technology transfer groups within a university maintain independence in recognition of their differences while still facilitating synergies resulting from overlapping areas of concern? In response to this dilemma, we draw on the organizational modularity perspective, which offers the normative prescription that such situations warrant autonomy for individual units, but also require a high degree of cross-unit awareness in order to capture synergies. To illustrate this perspective in an intra-university population of entrepreneurship and technology transfer groups, we present network images and statistics of inter-group relationships at Stanford University, which is widely recognized for its success in both activities. The results highlight that dependence between groups is minimal, such that groups retain autonomy in decision-making and are not dependent on others to complete their goals. Simultaneously, cross-unit awareness is high, such that groups have frequent formal and informal interactions and communication. This awareness facilitates mutually beneficial interactions between groups. As a demonstration of the actual functioning of this system, we present three thumbnail case studies that highlight positive relationships between entrepreneurship education and technology transfer. Ultimately, we argue that to fully realize the synergies between entrepreneurship education and technology transfer, we must also recognize differences between them and ensure the autonomy that such differences warrant.

Publication date
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Advances in the Study of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Economic Growth
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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