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Measuring the Impact of Innovation

June 18, 2012
By Joe Allen, President, Allen and Associates

It's always an indication of interest and importance in a topic when a panel draws a standing room only crowd. And that was the case with the Measuring the Impacts of Innovation: What is the Future of Tech Transfer? session at the 2012 BIO International Convention.

The panel focused on the need to help policy makers, institutions and the public identify appropriate measures for how publicly funded R&D is translated into tangible benefits. Speaking about the new South African technology transfer law, Jonathan Youngleson said that sponsored research has increased 300 percent while licensing royalties also climbed appreciably. However, he stressed the most important contribution comes in helping meet the serious health problems in countries like South Africa where significant numbers suffer from HIV and TB. This means that university research is looked to as a source of desperately needed innovation requiring the commercialization of academic research.

Judy Bristow with the University of Louisville emphasized that universities need to insure that their reward and promotion policies reflect the need to recognize traditional academic roles while also reflecting the importance of industry partnerships.

David Winwood of the University of Alabama-Birmingham talked about the perspective he gained as a bench scientist, a technology transfer officer and from setting up start up companies. He summarized his recommendations by saying that if technology transfer focuses only on making money, it will fail. However, if it focuses on doing it's larger mission of serving society, the money will follow.

Cartier Esham of BIO took the industry perspective. She used statistics from a BIO member survey showing the heavy reliance the industry places on in licensed technologies for company formation as well as a source of new products.

The panel concluded that simply counting patents, licenses or royalty income was not an appropriate metric as this just captures a small part of the overall value of the university research system. However, the new emphasis from Congress and the public demanding accountability for the management of public dollars means that universities live in a world where measuring tangible benefits to the economy are now mandatory.