Supporting the Commercialization of University Intellectual Property: Academic Librarians Can Make an Impact on Research Efforts at Their University and on the Economy at Large by Partnering with Their University's Technology Transfer Staff

By Martin, Jennifer R.; Elliott, Cynthia et al. | Information Outlook, July-August 2016 | Go to article overview

Supporting the Commercialization of University Intellectual Property: Academic Librarians Can Make an Impact on Research Efforts at Their University and on the Economy at Large by Partnering with Their University's Technology Transfer Staff


Martin, Jennifer R., Elliott, Cynthia, Kramer, Sandra S., Martin, Jim, Information Outlook


More and more academic institutions are exploring the market landscape by licensing the technologies emerging from their laboratories and classrooms and forming start-up companies. An increasing number of patents are being awarded to universities in the United States, and that rate is growing.

For example, more than 5,900 patents were issued to U.S. universities and colleges in 2014, up from approximately 1,000 in 1996 (National Science Board 2016). Invention disclosures, which are prospective inventions submitted before a patent application is filed, increased from 13,718 in 2003 to 21,596 in 2013 (National Science Board 2016). The number of start-up companies originating from universities has also grown during this time, reaching 759 in 2013 (National Science Board 2016).

A number of very profitable patents have come from university technology transfer efforts. For example, in 1965, the sports drink we know as Gatorade was invented at the University of Florida. An assistant football coach challenged research physicians to come up with a solution to combat the problem of heat-related illness that affected players. The researchers developed a formula that worked and became a huge success (Rovell 2006). The University of Florida receives 20 percent of profits in royalties from the invention of Gatorade, which, as of 2015, holds 77 percent of the sports drink market share in the United States (Rovel 2006; Mintel 2016).

The rise in patents awarded to colleges and universities is largely attributable to deliberate decisions to support technology development and transfer. According to Perkmann and others, "To support commercialisation, many universities have established specialised structures, such as technology transfer offices (TTOs), science parks and incubators" (Perkmann et al. 2013). These investments have paid off not just for universities, but for America as a whole: A study from the biotechnology industry reports that from 1996 to 2013, patent licensing activity involving industry and academia increased the U.S. gross industry output by up to $1.8 trillion (Griffith 2015).

Tech Transfer at the University of Arizona

At the University of Arizona (UA), librarians are contributing to the commercialization process through a partnership with a university-affiliated commercialization unit, Tech Launch Arizona (TLA). Tech Launch Arizona was created in 2012 to support the commercialization of UA technologies and innovations by securing patents and assisting units on campus in creating a marketable technology or product.

TLA began partnering with UA librarians in 2013 (Elliott, Martin, and Dewland 2015); in 2014, the UA Libraries (UAL) developed a formal agreement with TLA. Each librarian contributes his/her personal expertise--such as specialized knowledge in business, marketing, patents, or chemistry--to the evaluation of campus-produced innovations. Together, the librarians have assisted with the commercialization process of Tech Launch Arizona.

In 2015, the librarians were recognized by TLA with the I-Squared Innovation & Impact Award for Campus Collaboration (Tumarkin 2015). TLA Vice President David Allen, who presented the award, acknowledged, "Over the past two years, this collaboration has shown how bringing the vast resources and targeted expertise of the UA Libraries into the technology commercialization mix can be a true game changer. With the information the Business Intelligence Unit is bringing to the table, we're providing our teams with the ability to make better, more strategic decisions and increasing our effectiveness in bringing the inventions of the UA to market."

In addition to assisting with TLA projects, the team's health sciences librarians are providing support to the Arizona Center for Accelerated Biomedical Innovation (ACABI). ACABI identifies "novel science, technology and other discoveries that may be brought to bear to develop novel solutions which may be translated to reality in the here and now" (ACABI 2015). …

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