Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Commercializing Academic Research: Resource Effects on Performance of University Technology Transfer

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Commercializing Academic Research: Resource Effects on Performance of University Technology Transfer

Article excerpt

In recent years, universities, particularly large research institutions, have rapidly escalated their involvement in technology transfer, the process of transforming university research into marketable products. Fueled in part by redefined external expectations for economic development as well as internal pressures to generate new sources of revenue (Slaughter & Leslie, 1997), this emergent commercialization mission for higher education is serving to transform higher education in substantive ways. For example, since 1980 and the passage of the Bayh-Dole Act, the patenting of academic inventions has increased almost sevenfold from 390 for all academic institutions to 2,681 in 1998 (Associates of University Technology Managers [AUTM], 1998; National Science Board, 1998). Furthermore, between 1991 and 1997, a sample of 64 top research universities reported that their licensing of patented technologies to business and industry had more than doubled from 938 to 1,923 licenses issued (AUTM, 1998). Member institutio ns of the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) also reported that more than 2,500 new companies had been formed since 1980 for the purpose of commercializing a specific university developed technology.

These new entrepreneurial tendencies, however, have generated considerable controversy. Recent research suggests that as colleges and universities have strengthened their linkages with the for-profit sector, the result has been a shift toward more applied research and restrictions by industry R&D sponsors on the publication of new knowledge (Blumenthal, Campbell, Anderson, Causino, & Louis, 1997; Cohen, Florida, Randazzese, & Walsh, 1998). Other research has suggested that pressures to identify new sources of income to fund the increasingly expensive research enterprise has weakened faculty and administration resistance to external influence on the direction of academic inquiry (Argyres & Liebeskind, 1998; Slaughter & Leslie, 1997). Additionally, there is evidence that faculty involved in new ventures may be distracted from their primary duties as teachers and scholars as they seek to simultaneously manage the enormous responsibilities associated with running a business (Campbell & Slaughter, 1999). The negat ives associated with the entrepreneurial university phenomena, or what Slaughter and Leslie (1997) call "academic capitalism," have also received considerable coverage in the popular press (Barboza, 1998; Marcus, 1999; Press & Washburn, 2000).

Despite the controversy, universities are forging ahead with their technology transfer activities in a quest for new sources of revenue and newfound legitimacy as important sources of innovation in a competitive global marketplace (Mansfield & Lee, 1996). However, only a relatively few number of institutions have experienced financial success in technology transfer (United States General Accounting Office, 1998). High profile success stories such as Vitamin D technologies at the University of Wisconsin ($99 million in licensing royalties), the Cisplantin cancer treatment drug at Michigan State University ($86 million in royalties) and Gatorade at the University of Florida ($33 million) are more the exception than the norm (1) (Riley, 1998).

Considering higher education's increasing enthusiasm for technology transfer, research to inform its practice is important. However, while some research has been done on university-industry collaboration in general (Campbell, 1997; Cohen et al., 1998) and university technology transfer in particular (Dill, 1995; Matkin, 1990), relatively little work has investigated factors that may explain differential performance with technology transfer. What has been done has generally been of a case study nature (Roberts & Malone, 1996), regional in scope (Smilor, Gibson, & Dietrich, 1990), or descriptive in focus (Matkin, 1990). Thus, this quantitative study seeks to fill this research gap by investigating if particular institutional resource factors may explain differences in technology transfer performance across a representative sample of universities engaged in its practice. …

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