Technology Transfer: Are Faculty Entrepreneurs Still Swimming Upstream?

Technology Transfer: Are Faculty Entrepreneurs Still Swimming Upstream?

Russ Lea (University of South Alabama, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-147-8.ch008
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In the past three decades, economic competitiveness has morphed from an international concern (e.g. outcompete Japan) to a regional concern (e.g. knowledge clusters) to one where individual universities are in an “arms race” with each other for private and public funding (including licensing royalties, retaining star faculty, pursuing academic earmarking, developing technology parks and incubators, etc.). The greatest benefit that Bayh-Dole afforded universities, namely, to promote the utilization of their research for the public good, sometimes seems distant to the perceived objectives whereby universities attempt to maximize their own resources, including commercialization profits from faculty innovations that are ultimately transferred to the economy.
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First Things First

From a purely academic perspective, there are several key motivators that control faculty recognition and rewards. The first is that that universities have been important sources of knowledge and purveyors of truth as they go about their scholarly activities in teaching, research, and public service. It is through this unfettered compact with the university where faculty and their students have de facto become the intellectual center of the entire U.S. research enterprise and where most of the basic intellectual energy is spent. However, this right to conduct scholarship and teaching is not without disciplinary controls, since excellence in one’s field is determined by peer review and fierce competition. The goal of peer review is obvious, in that the best is defined by your own colleagues. Not only do your colleagues control your rewards in grant funding, the courses you will teach, and your access to unique university resources, but they also control to what degree your scholarly works will be recognized in publications and/or translated into new products, therapeutics, and technologies.

More recently, as universities attempt to keep their competitive positions with other universities, or attempt to leap-frog over their competitors, universities are generally portrayed as “black holes” for resources. In recent years, this “greed” has become evident to the taxpayers and Congress because of escalating administrative salaries, run-away tuition and fees, some capital campaigns exceeding billions of dollars, and the incessant appetite for modern research facilities, student recreation facilities, and high-cost equipment. Detractors of the academic enterprise are also leveling criticisms at faculty who are supposedly neglecting teaching and research in order to enrich themselves through industry partnerships, external consulting activities, or commercializing their innovations through technology transfer activities. Faculty who used to be rewarded by peers for teaching, research, and public service have found a new avenue where they are rewarded through faculty entrepreneurship. It is the new breed of faculty who recognize their worth to the institution in terms of attracting other key scholars, high-ranking students, selling scientific skills and technologies, starting-up companies, and gaining support of high wealth individuals or foundations. This campus entrepreneur knows the value of his/her know-how and is constantly leveraging it against all intra-and extra-mural donors.

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