Bright Ideas and Universities

October was a bear of a month, which explains the light posting. November isn't looking much better. Here's a quick link to an interesting piece about university technology transfer, from Sunday's New York Times. The Times interviewed the president of Johns Hopkins University. Here are what I think are the two best exchanges:

Q. What’s wrong with the way universities are commercializing technology?

A. From the university’s perspective, it’s mostly a money-losing operation. The fees that universities get don’t cover the expenses involved in licensing and marketing the inventions. That’s because only a very small fraction of licenses actually generate much revenue. In the year 2000, universities had about 21,000 active licenses with industry. But only 125 generated more than $1 million in licensing and royalty income. Unless you have a big hit like Gatorade, which came out of the University of Florida, or a drug that the University of Wisconsin had many years ago to prevent blood from clotting, or the recombinant DNA patent that the University of California at San Francisco and Stanford share, the aggregate income doesn’t cover the expenses.

. . . .
Q. What should we conclude from this?

A. When you ask “Where are tomorrow’s ideas?” they are things you and I would look at and say, “That’s not going anywhere. That’s worthless.”

It’s hard to predict. What I say is that research is about planting seeds and watering them and occasionally pulling the weeds out. Every now and again you’ll get a prize-winning rose. But you have to water everything.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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