The Arizona Desert Lamp

Patently absurd

Posted in Technology by Connor Mendenhall on 8 January 2009

Interesting news from Those-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named up north: the Sun Devils have signed a deal with U. Penn’s technology transfer office to create a pool of shared patents and work together to sell their ivory tower inventions to the general public.  It’s another smart idea from Michael Crow, and another area where the University of Arizona needs to improve, especially in lean times.

Over the past four years, UA has steadily increased patent applications and licensing agreements, and spent more on research and development. Meanwhile, revenue has dropped from a recent high of $1.7 million in 2005 to just $1.1 million last year. Take a look at this table from the Arizona Daily Star:

Tech Revenue

Issued patents barely breach double-digits at both UA and ASU, but Tempe Normal School is kicking our smug Research I rear when it comes to licenses and cash. Factor in the contribution of Optical Sciences, which filed a full third of UA’s patents last year, according to their whitepaper, and it starts to look a little embarrassing. Seeking higher returns on intellectual property is one of the few smart revenue-generating ideas that doesn’t involve firing secretaries or sharing copy machines. UA ought to pursue it at least as actively as our rivals.

Of course, after gazing at that table, there’s probably one question on your mind: “Isn’t intellectual property a strange, artificial thing created by government fiat that distorts markets, maligns incentives for research, and encourages the kind of noxious rent-seeking that bleeds taxpayers and kills kids in Africa?” Yeah, that’s a good question. But when it comes to our rivalry with the devils from the northern wastes, I say we give no quarter to the rational.

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2 Responses

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  1. Jack H. Pincus said, on 8 January 2009 at 5:36 pm

    A truism of university technology transfer is that the technology licensing office and university do not contro l their source of production. Faculty are free to choose their research projects. Most faculty choose research projects for thier technical elegance and to increase knowledge. They are not interested in and do not consider the commercial poetnatial of their research. University technology transfer offices receive whatever faculty produce. They do not control the quantity, quality, stage of development, or commercial relevance of inventions disclosured. Statistics from Stanford University have shown that the likelihood of a university invention producing significant revenue is 1:2000.

  2. Connor Mendenhall said, on 13 January 2009 at 9:27 am

    Good point—and this is the way it should be. Corporate R&D departments should be thinking about commercial potential, but I’d hate to see university researchers forced to focus on marketability. That the odds are against a university invention hitting it big makes deals like ASU’s all the more important—a bigger pool of ideas and potential combinations improves those chances a little bit. UA shouldn’t be cajoling faculty into more patents or more lucrative licenses, but they should be thinking creatively about how to maximize revenue from an uncertain source.


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