In a recent opinion piece published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled “Changing the academic culture: Valuing patents and commercialization toward tenure and career advancement” the authors suggest that the reason universities have been slow to take on their proper role in the innovation economy is because of “a lack of change in incentives for the central stakeholder, the faculty member.” The authors argue that “universities should expand their criteria to treat patents, licensing, and commercialization activity by faculty as an important consideration for merit, tenure, and career advancement, along with publishing, teaching, and service.”

We certainly agree. And if such incentives lead to more tech transfer success it will create a positive feedback loop which will further incentivize faculty.

But the production of patents is only one small part of the process of going from pure research to successful enterprise. There is a long distance to be travelled between obtaining a patent and the licensing of that patent to a startup for purposes of creating a company. And then an even greater distance to be travelled in making that startup a success, so that it generates meaningful licensing revenue back to the university.

We think “commercialization activity” should include participation in the local startup ecosystems (i.e. the broader community of entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, etc.)  The university can help, by providing for example, meeting and work space, research assistance and a variety of other value-add resources.

Aligning incentives more closely to the innovation economy, as the authors suggest, is a great idea, but in a vacuum it may have little impact. Effectively and efficiently connecting those faculty, who are amenable to a commercial lens on their work, with the broader community of entrepreneurs, investors, mentors and local startup ecosystems would likely yield a greater impact. Collective IP works diligently to lubricate this university/faculty connectivity with industry. We invite you to participate, start by identifying your university here: