Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Recap of KickStart Meeting on: CHOICE OF BUSINESS ENTITY: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT C-CORPS, S-CORPS AND LLC's

I got a lot of useful information at the KickStart Meeting this morning.  I thought the venue was perfect for this type of thing.  Our hosts, Olsen-Thielen & Co., Ltd, were very hospitable.  There was someone waiting in the front lobby to point us toward the correct meeting room and they even had bagels and coffee waiting for us when we arrived (above and beyond as far as I'm concerned); but much appreciated.  The room was big enough to accommodate everyone, but you could still hear what people were saying, because the tables were set up in a big square, so we all faced inward. 


Kevin Spreng, IP Attorney at RKMC and innovation catalyst extraordinaire, started us off by having us go around and introduce ourselves.  There was a great deal of diversity in the room; Everything from Bankers and Angel Investors, to students - Seasoned entrepreneurs to those considering taking the leap into the start-up world for the first time.  We had one guy who drove all the way from Duluth to be there and a woman in the St. Thomas MBA program who hails from Brasilia, Brazil.



The reigns were then handed off to Mike Bromelkamp and Scott Hoyles from Olsen Thielen.  We had a good discussion and got great insight into what investors are looking for when funding a business.  The handout that Scott passed out was invaluable and I am sure nobody left theirs behind.  I was very impressed with the knowledge and preparedness of Mike and Scott and now understand why they, and their firm, are so well respected in the business community. 



The tax discussion was a little bit over my head, but that, coupled with the dialog regarding the differences in legal entities, off-shoring and the whole, LLC/Partnership/Sub-S/C-Corp conundrum, really showcased how important it is to have a good lawyer and a good accountant that has worked in this realm for a long time.



We also had an interesting discussion about intellectual property; the reasons for, and methods of, protecting IP.  Kevin, Mike and Scott all shared anecdotes that highlighted how important it is to understand that if you can't afford to litigate against infringer's, it doesn't matter whether you think you have a defensible patent (or other protection mechanism) or not.  Kevin said that his firm won't even take patent infringement cases on a contingency basis, unless there is likely a 9-figure settlement involved, because the cases are so complex and costs so much to litigate.



That left me thinking that it might be a waste of time for most people to even file a patent, because in my experience, most inventions will never be that valuable.


All-in-all, it was a great meeting, that really drove home some important points for entrepreneurs like me, who often don't want to think about legal minutiae and the ramifications of not getting professional help when setting up a business entity.


I should also mention that there were a couple of us that wanted to have a quick discussion after the meeting so we commandeered a smaller conference room, so we could chat.  We were able to get online and have our meeting without anyone bugging us or kicking us out, which was way more than I could have expected.


Thanks Kevin Mike and Scott;  Well done!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Open Letter to AUTM: The REAL National Convention Debate Topic Should Be: "Why Haven’t We Embraced the Web for Marketing and (Express) Licensing of our Available Technologies?"

Alan Bentley, the president of AUTM recently announced that there would be a big "debate" about the pros and cons of "express Licensing.
First let me say that in my opinion having a “debate” on pros and cons of express licensing doesn’t go far enough.  The discussion should also include marketing technologies outside of our personal networks and why we haven’t fully embraced the technologies available to us for doing so.  Also, a definition of what folks think “express licensing” means, would probably narrow the scope to a manageable level.   Plus, asking the folks from tech transfer offices to weigh in on this doesn't make sense.  So few of them have a clue about how to effectively and efficiently tackle express licensing that you couldn't fill a closet much less a ballroom with those who could speak intelligently on the subject.
As a primer or maybe a “fight-starter,”  I would suggest that we are really debating the difference between inefficient methods and efficient marketing and licensing practices.  
I find myself writing this, having spent the last two-and-a-half years having thought, ate, breathed and slept "express licensing" and, in broader terms, Marketing University I.P. on the Web. 
My company, M.IP.P. Strategy has developed the First and most successful tool for SEO, Online Marketing, Express Licensing creation Administration and Management Application that is out there today; CaSTT - (Commerce and Search for Technology Transfer).  
And it was designed  in conjunction with a University Technology Transfer Office.
SO, with that having been said...

The problem is, express licensing isn't really the issue.  The real issue is the effective use of tools to market available technologies.  The reason that express licensing doesn't work and hasn't really caught on for most universities has little to do with the licensing part of the equation.  Instead the issues reside in the reality that folks can't find the technologies that we have available for licensing.

The Bayh-Dole Act recognized the incredible potential of university inventions, yet a staggering number of promising technologies remain untapped; The economic and humanitarian benefits unrealized, because of the gap in getting inventions noticed and into the hands of companies with the development funding necessary to nurture these vital innovations and discoveries.  Connecting companies with viable licensing opportunities remains the most significant challenge along the research-to-deployment continuum.
The typical marketing and licensing model, for US Technology Transfer offices, relies heavily on inefficient marketing techniques and constantly cultivating professional relationships with industry contacts. I am by no means asserting that we should not cultivate strong industry relationships, but employing this methodology means that when a researcher produces a new invention or makes a breakthrough discovery, the ability to successfully commercialize that intellectual property is often directly tied to the resources available to the technology transfer office and the personal contacts of the technology transfer professional assigned to marketing that technology.  Common sense dictates that if you are an overworked portfolio manager in a tech transfer office, juggling dozens, if not hundreds, of intellectual property disclosures, you are more likely to dedicate your time to ideas that will have huge, obvious, monetary pay-offs, rather than trying to shepherd inventions with less obvious commercial potential through the morass of red-tape and paperwork that accompanies most transformative ideas, coming out of pure research or academe. 
The tech transfer industry, as a whole, hasn’t kept up with the staggering advances in electronic marketing techniques and search engine optimization strategies, over the last decade.  Because of thsi fundamental truth, the only viable option for transferring the latest technology to someone who can turn it into jobs, growth and money for your university, lab or hospital, is sending more emails and making more phone calls, all-the-while eagerly waiting for serendipity to smile upon your efforts and leaving you hoping that the new technology is at the perfect intersection of innovation, need, ability, resources and the right person actually knowing the other right person, so they can engineer a meeting. In short; in the tech transfer world, it has always been about how much money you have and whom you know, rather than how good your idea is; but money is tight and “hope” is neither a sound strategy nor a successful tactic.
Because of this omnipresent paradigm, Technology Transfer Offices have fallen far behind the rest of the business world when it comes to utilizing the most helpful and transformative communication tools at their disposal; Web Marketing.  One of the effects that this deficiency in professional and organizational development has, is that technology transfer professionals, and specifically those who are tasked with marketing intellectual property, occasionally operate on differently communication levels than those with whom they are supposed to interact. 
The typical TTO - marketing person spends her time making phone calls, sending emails, and trying to figure out how to get the contact information for completely unqualified leads at monolithic companies.  Meanwhile, most of the jobs created in the United States, and most of the folks making revolutionary economic and societal changes, based on untapped ideas and elbow grease, are never going to hear about the wealth of amazing technological treasures available to them, because they aren’t part of a giant machine that churns out a new product once every ten years. 
Entrepreneurs; those far more likely to turn innovative research developments into practical business products, don’t spend their days waiting for someone in a tech transfer office to call them. Additionally, it is arrogant and na├»ve to think that corporate researchers and product development engineers have time to visit every university website; trolling the ivy covered depths of neglected discoveries.  The folks that will lead the nation and, specifically, the area’s most affected by the current economic distress, won’t do so by trudging through acronym-laden technology descriptions, jargon filled abstracts and indecipherable static files, meant more for their peers than for someone who might turn their work into a commercial venture. 
The reason the future of technology transfer for public institutions is so cloudy is that most new technologies, even the most exciting, promising and commercially viable ones, can only be found by an extremely persistent individual, who knows precisely which technology he or she is looking for; has somehow discovered the website where the information is stored; understands how to navigate through academic databases, journal publications and patent searches, to ultimately find enough information to lead them to someone in the Technology Transfer Office.  Even if one successfully runs that gauntlet, what follows is a significant investment in person-hours required, by both the potential licensee and the Intellectual Property owner, to facilitate the sharing of information, process paperwork and complete several manual steps in the data gathering and licensing process. 
Many Technology Transfer Offices, particularly those located in economically distressed regions, think they cannot afford the resource expenditure necessary to fix this problem or, even if they can, don’t know where to start, so they continue to use outdated and inefficient means to reach potential licensees.  These Technology Transfer Offices have been taught to believe this business model will lead to licensing, commercialization, and job creation.  The unfortunate reality is that inadequate marketing strategies, antiquated systems and inappropriately used software applications simply do not provide most tech transfer offices with a reliable mechanism to reach beyond their own personal networks, or outside their own geographic reach, to garner unsolicited leads.  The absence of adequate education and training targeted to the unique issues and circumstances that technology transfer offices face, and a lack of specialized technology development for this small niche industry, make it incredibly difficult to create an environment for potential licensees to even find viable licensing opportunities.
Efficient Licensing

The problem that I have with most folks that think they are doing express licensing is that they STILL NEGOTIATE!  It is as if we think it is our job to negotiate. 

Imagine if your TV broke.  You would have a problem that needed a solution.  Because we have trained licensee’s to think a certain way about buying (licensing) stuff from us, If you were buying the TV from a Target store, as if it were University IP, it might go something like this.

You/licensee: walk into Target and say to the manager “I would like to buy that TV.”

Store/Technology Manager; “Great; That TV is $539.  How would you like to pay for that?”

You/licensee: “Whoa, hold up big fella! We are going to have to negotiate.  I said I like the TV, and it does all of the things I need a TV to do, but I am not thrilled by the packaging; Especially the tape on the box.  No, before I buy that TV, I am going to need you to make some changes.  The thing is, I don’t really like the way it is packaged.  I need you to send it back to China, and repackage it.  Also, I need you to remove the tape with the red Target® logo on it and just use clear tape.

Store/Technology Manager; “Ummm. What?!”

You/licensee: “Yeah, if you do all that stuff, I will buy that TV for the exact same price that you have it listed at right now.”

Now, at Target, if the Store/Technology Manager calls security and has you (justifiably) thrown out, you can just got to another store.  But it is highly unlikely that you will turn around, go back to your house and decide that it might be easier to get exactly what you want by just building your own TV.  Even if you could, it would take too long and cost too much.  But this is the crazy, contra-intuitive, sandbox that we in tech transfer find ourselves playing in every day.

If we just said: “Nope, we have a set of standards that we cannot stray from so, if you want it, here it is!” Folks would have no option but to accept it – or not.  Either way we can justify our actions.

Does This Sound Familiar

Currently, when an individual or organization wishes to enter into a non-exclusive license agreement for the use of commercialized intellectual property with a University, a manual process must be undertaken whereby both the potential licensee and employees of the Technology Transfer office can expect to engage in an inefficient, and occasionally arduous, licensing process.

First, the customer must identify the product he wishes to license and either, contact the inventor for information on how to license the IP, or figure out for himself how to engage the TTO.

Then he must either call or email the appropriate TTO employee and wait for a response, after which they receive further instructions regarding the exact license parameters and the processes and procedures they must undertake in order to complete what should be a relatively simple transaction.
Licensing Non-Exclusives (Because Gerry mentioned it)
In the best-case scenario, using some forward-thinking TTO’s web site, a customer might be able to:

  • Obtain a couple of paragraphs of background information, a simple set of license instructions and a downloadable copy of the license, from the website, which is usually in PDF form.
  • The customer must then mail, fax or email several hand-signed copies of the license back to the TTO. 
  • They must, also remit payment for the license, either by mailing a check or via wire transfer (which has its own set of instructions and manual internal processes.)

In either case, several, steps must be taken to reconcile this transaction in the accounting process.  In cases that I am familiar with, the check comes in then sits on a desk or in a basket for a while.
  When it is opened, someone stamps a date on it and begins to enter the transaction and customer data into some central accounting system software (if they are lucky). Sometimes, however, the info gets added to  the TTO’s tech management database but there is a separate process by which the university and the TTO have to account for the money. In those cases, another step is added to the process which means that the check has to clear the bank, then a TTO staffer has to find and enter the details of THAT process into a different system before materials can licenses are approved and sent to the licensee.

Finally, upon receipt of the Executed License, the “cutting edge” University forwards an electronic copy of the reproducible materials and content to the licensee.  If the licensed materials are something that must be boxed up and shipped, there is yet 
another set of procedures for fulfillment and shipping communication.  and, of course, all notifications and shipping/tracking documents must then be manually entered then be tracked in your CRM or technology management system.

And what about export controls?

Our express licensing system has multiple levels of export control mechanisms.  We can restrict information, access and ability-to-license for all technologies or even individual license types for a specific technology, based on IP address, country, state, physical address of the licensee and a bunch of other variables.  So, for instance, someone in Afghanistan, could license the academic version of some piece of software, to use for research purposes, but not be allowed to even get technical information about the commercial or more developed versions of the same technology.

However, in most cases, using the “Old school ways of doing things, getting your hands on the technology once you have jumped through these hoops will take at best, a few weeks, and most often several months.


Let's Negotiate

Sadly, this is currently a “Best-Case” scenario for most TTO’s.  Most often though, the customer, since she has already gone through the trouble of actually endeavoring to speak directly to someone at the Tech Transfer Office, says:

“Can we change the language in section XXX  …I just don’t know if we can do it that way here at our company/ university/ hospital/ lab…,” etc?

To which the Technology Manager inevitably says “of course; just let me send that to our lawyers and make sure it is OK with them.”

This action triggers the customer to suddenly believe that if there are lawyers involved, maybe theirs should be too.  2 months later the technology, which could have been licensed immediately had there been a mechanism in place for doing so, is still stuck in legal terms-and-conditions purgatory and might never make it out.

This is, simply, a poor way to treat a customer who wants nothing more than to find a useful technology, learn more about it, pay for and execute a license and fulfill the order.  The worst part about it, for the TTO, isn’t even the delay; the worst part is that you have trained another customer to automatically assume that the terms and conditions, that are included in the licenses that you promote, are arbitrary and that one would be a sucker if they simply accepted them.  This is the same feeling one would get if one were to go to a used car lot and tried to buy a car.  We all know how much folks love to negotiate…

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Great Bootstrapper's Breakfast today

Today's Bootstrapper's Breakfast was fascinating and well worth the time.  In attendance were the entire team from the winners of the start-up weekend, who have been working on no sleep and lots of caffeine.  Kevin Spreng kept the discussion on track and we all got to talk about what we are working on and, in most cases, what we do when we aren't bootstrapping a start-up.

One of the interesting themes was how much different it is to be an entrepreneur once you are married, have kids, a mortgage and the real responsibilities that naturally come along as one get's older.  Coming out of that discussion, I am seriously thinking about getting a group together that consists of a bunch of guys that have been involved in start-ups in the past, who might be able to lend some historical perspective, give some free advice and help younger entrepreneurs build their respective network's.

Playing off that discussion, I think there was some consensus that we can all serve the start-up community by working together and sharing our connections.

Jeff Pesek had some really interesting comments about the things that he has learned about being an entrepreneur in the Midwest which started a discussion about the differences between the Silicon Valley venture capital/startup environment and the Twin Cities'.  One of the things that I absolutely agreed with him on was when he said it is really important to consider the sources of the advice that you get as it relates to doing a start-up or finding funding.  He said, "there are a lot of poser's out there"...  Truer words were never spoken.  Jeff also talked about the current state of venture funding here in town and what he feels are ways that we can improve the climate.

The best part of the breakfast, for me, was at the end when we went around the table and shared what we are looking for, in terms of help for the various projects we are all working on, and also what we might be able to offer the other members of the group.

Afterward, Kevin held a little impromptu session on the merits and pitfalls of the various types of legal entities that an unfunded start-up might consider, when trying to attract seed, angel or venture funding.

I left thinking that I am amazed at how much more mature the Twin Cities start-up community has become since I first went out looking for venture funding back in 2000.  I mentioned that, back then, the only decent networking group in town was Netsuds, and all 6,000 members were trying to get a meeting with Michael Gorman.  Now, getting in the room with someone who can fund your idea is a little easier, and we are all getting better at realizing that just Because another company gets funded, that doesn't preclude ours from being successful too.

In the end, I think the most important nugget that I took from the event was that there are lots of people out there who are talented and well connected and if we all work together, share ideas, share contacts and use our past experience and lessons learned from our failures as well as our successes, we can help each-other avoid mistakes and turn the Twin Cities in to a more inviting environment for innovation.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

9 Steps to Diagnosing Lost Search Engine Traffic

I really like this article about figuring out why there is traffic loss on your website.  JillWhalen Knows her stuff.

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Consulting Agency

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Association of University Technology Managers, Statistics, Over Time


AUTM Stats, Over Time

If you go to http://autm-stats-over-time.mippstrategy.com/, you will find a Motion Chart, which gives a graphical illustration of all of the stats that AUTM collects, each year, from its member institutions.  The difference between what you get when you do a query on the AUTM site, and what I have done, is that I have created a moving, graphical, representation of all of the statistics collected since 2002, so you can choose your own parameters and see how they interact and react against each other, by school or institution, over time.

This data can be used to benchmark against other institutions, or just see how your own school/institution has done over time.

If you have ever wondered how your school compares, over time, to all of the other AUTM members, or maybe just a couple of others, in any or all collected categories, this is a fairly easy way to find out.

I am interested to hear back from folks as to what they think about the way this data is displayed.

Please note: All of the data from this chart came from a blanket query of all of the statistics that are available to AUTM members on the AUTM websiteThere are a couple of obvious errors in one or two of the individual school’s data, but I used the data exactly as it was reported.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Truth, Opinions & Statistics?

A national survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with the Exploratorium benchmarks how the internet fits into people's habits for gathering news and information about science.  Findings include:  
  • Nearly 9 in 10 (87%) online users have used the internet to look up the meaning of a scientific concept, answer a specific science question, learn more about a scientific breakthrough, complete a school assignment, check the accuracy of a scientific fact, download scientific data, or compare different or opposing scientific theories.  
  • Most Americans say they would turn to the internet if they needed more information on specific scientific topics. Two-thirds of respondents asked about stem cell research said they would first turn to the internet 
  • 59% asked about climate change said they would first go to the internet. Most of those searches would begin with search engines.  
  • Nearly three quarters (71%) of internet users say they turn to the internet for science news and information because it is convenient.  
  • Two-thirds (65%) say they have encountered news and information about science when they have gone online with a different reason in mind.

Users of the internet for science information also report better attitudes about the role science plays in society and higher assessments of how well they understand science.  Specifically:  

  • 78% of those who have gotten science information online describe themselves as "very" or "somewhat" informed about new scientific discoveries; 58% of remaining internet users says this.
  • 48% strongly agree that to be a strong society, the United States needs to be competitive in science; 33% of remaining online users strongly agree with this.  
  • 43% strongly agree that scientific research is essential to improving the quality of human lives; 27% of other online users also say this.
     
Further, in a report entitled “The Impact of the Internet on Institutions in the Future,” Most surveyed believe that innovative forms of online cooperation could result in more efficient and responsive for-profit firms, non-profit organizations, and government agencies by the year 2020.
 

By an overwhelming margin, technology experts and stakeholders participating in a survey fielded by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s - Imagining the Internet Center, believe that innovative forms of online cooperation could result in more efficient and responsive for-profit firms, non-profit organizations, and government agencies by the year 2020.

A highly engaged set of respondents that included 895 technology stakeholders and critics participated in the online, opt-in survey. In this canvassing of a diverse number of experts, 72% agreed with the statement:  

  • “By 2020, innovative forms of online cooperation will result in significantly more efficient and responsive governments, business, non-profits, and other mainstream institutions.”

Only 26% agreed with the opposite statement, which posited: 

  • ”By 2020, governments, businesses, non-profits and other mainstream institutions will primarily retain familiar 20th century models for conduct of relationships with citizens and consumers online and offline.”

While their overall assessment anticipates that humans’ use of the internet will prompt institutional change, many elaborated with written explanations that expressed significant concerns over organization’s resistance to change.  

They cited fears that bureaucracies of all stripes – especially government agencies – can resist outside encouragement to evolve. Some wrote that the level of change will affect different kinds of institutions at different times. The consensus among them was that businesses will transform themselves much more quickly than public and non-profit agencies.

The Online Experience TTO’s Should Offer Their Potential Licensees


These are some of the things that we set out to accomplish when we were building CaSTT (Commerce and Search for Technology Transfer) 
 

Simple and Familiar User Experience

TTO's must make it easy for potential licensees to:
  • Search for and find a specific technology
  • Get detailed product information
  • Choose an appropriate license type
  • Enter Customer and payment information
  • Complete the transaction and fulfill the order
  • Buy with confidence - Use a secure E-Commerce transaction interface specifically tailored to the needs of University Technology Transfer offices

Administrative Control and Ease of Use

Application and Management Tools Should Help Technology Transfer Offices:
 
  • Track sales
  • Perform site-use analysis using Google Analytics (or your favorite web data package)
  • Find out where users are coming from, what they are searching for and what keywords they use to find a specific technology.
  • Review numbers and types of agreements.
  • Create non-negotiable licenses, with standard terms and conditions
  • Automate much of the purchase, fulfillment and product-information function currently performed by Tech Transfer Office staff or University inventors
You can read more about our experience building CaSTT for the University of Minnesota Office for Technology Commercialization on the M.IP.P. Strategy Website

How Does Your Tech Transfer Office Treat Potential Licensee’s?

Does This Sound Familiar

Currently, when an individual or organization wishes to enter into a non-exclusive license agreement for the use of commercialized intellectual property with a University, a manual process must be undertaken whereby both the potential licensee and employees of the Technology Transfer office can expect to engage in an inefficient, and occasionally arduous, licensing process. 

First, the customer must identify the product he wishes to license and either, contact the inventor for information on how to license the IP, or figure out for himself how to engage the TTO. 

Then he must either call or email the appropriate TTO employee and wait for a response in which they receive further instructions regarding the exact license parameters and the processes and procedures they must undertake in order to complete what should be a relatively simple transaction. 
Licensing Non-Exclusives

In the best-case scenario, using some forward-thinking TTO’s web site, a customer might be able to:

  • Obtain a couple of paragraphs of background information, a simple set of license instructions and a downloadable copy of the license, from the website.
  • The customer must then mail, fax or email a signed copy of the license back to the TTO. 
  • They must, also remit payment for the license, either by mailing a check or via wire transfer (which has its own set of instructions and manual internal processes.)

In either case, several, steps must be taken to reconcile this transaction in the accounting process. 

Finally, upon receipt of the Executed License, the “cutting edge” University forwards an electronic copy of the reproducible materials and content to the licensee. 

However, in most cases, getting your hands on the technology once you have jumped through these hoops will take at best, a few weeks, and most often several months.

Let's Negotiate

Sadly, this is currently a “Best-Case” scenario for most TTO’s.  Most often though, the customer, since she has already gone through the trouble of actually endeavoring to speak directly to someone at the Tech Transfer Office, says:

“Can we change the language in section XXX  …I just don’t know if we can do it that way here at our company/ university/ hospital/ lab…,” etc?  

To which the Technology Manager inevitably says “of course; just let me send that to our lawyers and make sure it is OK with them.” 

This action triggers the customer to suddenly believe that if there are lawyers involved, maybe theirs should be too.  2 months later the technology, which could have been licensed immediately had there been a mechanism in place for doing so, is still stuck in legal terms-and-conditions purgatory and might never make it out.

This is, simply, a poor way to treat a customer who wants nothing more than to find a useful technology, learn more about it, pay for and execute a license and fulfill her order.  The worst part about it for the TTO, isn’t even the delay; the worst part is that you have trained another customer to automatically assume that the terms and conditions that are included in the licenses that you promote are arbitrary and that one would be a sucker if they simply accepted them.  This is the same feeling one would get if she were to go to a used car lot and tried to buy a car.  We all know how much folks love to negotiate…

Where Do Your Technology Descriptions Come From

It’s Not The Arrow; It’s the Archer

No matter whether you have a home-grown IP Management Database or a commercial application, the problem isn’t the IP Management System.  Most technology tracking and management software was never meant to be a central repository for Search Engine Optimized technology marketing content.  No prior system was specifically designed to integrate with the vast array of new, user and search engine-friendly, web-based technologies, without significant and costly customization.

When new or updated information is published, a manual process must still be undertaken to get the same information, which now resides on the website, out to its intended audience.  That is also assuming that there are adequate resources available to build fully developed marketing campaigns for the tens of thousands of new inventions and discoveries coming out of research facilities each year.  Further, the same process must be repeated each time there is an update or upgrade.

In fact, there are plenty of tools that are simple to use and produce dramatically better results than the way most TTO's do things now, but between bureaucracy, budget and fear of the unknown, most tech transfer offices refuse to accept that they are doing a terrible job of getting information about their innovations out to the world in a way that those searching for it can actually find it and begin to engage in the licensing process.

The Promise of the Future for Tech Transfer


How to Get There

It is possible to leverage the power of the Web to bring potential licensees, folks that you don’t have contact info for, to the universe of amazing technologies that often lie dormant waiting for someone to discover them.  By using ubiquitous web tools, and following proven content-optimization methods, industry can find out about licensable technologies and, in many cases, actually license it, with no human intervention, no phone calls, no negotiation and no paperwork.

Whatever applications and tools the TTO chooses, though, should really be a secondary consideration.  The application itself is simply a means to an end.  In my mind, which application one uses is only as important as a tech transfer office's ability to change the way they market their technologies.  It is so important for people to understand that they should not be using jargon, technical descriptions and the indecipherable gobbledygook that professors and researcher write. (mostly, it seems, to impress other professors and researchers)  one can find reams of quantitative data that PROVES that people simply do not use the web to search for solutions to problems the way most of us in the tech transfer world seem to think they do. 
 
If folks aren't beating down your door to find out more about all of the cool, ground- breaking inventions and discoveries that you have to offer, you no longer have to ask yourself why; It is because you are writing for the wrong audience.  I have had this argument a hundred times with folks in our own office and all I can say is that the results speak much louder than anything I can say or do to convince them.  

I can give you a hundred examples of how easy it is to get people to actually notice your licensable technologies, but most often, it doesn't matter, because folks don't want to do the work it would take to fix their content.  They just want to post whatever they have in KSS, InfoEd or Inteum, directly to the web, with no regard for whether or not anyone in the world will ever be able to find it, use it or understand it, if they do.  We in the Tech Transfer world seem to think that the simple act of getting a technology description online means that anyone searching for a solution to a problem, one that has anything at all to do with the general nature of one of our inventions, will easily be able to find it.

The fact is, there are tens-of-thousands of technologies being listed on IP aggregator sites, but the real people out there searching for them can't find them because we do such a horrible job of writing technology descriptions, optimizing our content and setting ourselves up for success.  We don't understand the tools that we are using or how search engines work.  Optimizing content can help us do our jobs by bringing unsolicited leads to our doorstep.

Tech Transfer Offices need to completely scrap the way they think about how they describe their technologies.  We need to begin to learn how to use the tools that we already have available to us.  And, finally, we need stop trying to turn technology management systems, like KSS, Inteum and InfoED, that are in no way meant (or equipped) to help one market the technologies whose descriptions are housed there, let alone do so online.  We need to start thinking more clearly about our the behavior of our audience.

Why are Tech Transfer Organizations Using video / Web 2.0 / social media tools


It Gets Worse

The trend that sees tech transfer offices skipping the most important steps in the online-marketing-tool "learning curve," and instead jumping directly to a strategy of using video/Web 2.0/social media tools, without ever learning how the web, search, content optimization and basic internet marketing processes work, means that they are focusing time and resources on steps that won’t help them until they go back and learn the basics.

If you can’t effectively market a technology online, so that you get unsolicited leads, why would you shift your focus to trying to market a video about that technology.  If you are doing this you are throwing good money after bad.

Innovation Lives; Just Not Inside the Tech Transfer Office


Are We Scared or Apathetic?

Most folks from private enterprise would be shocked by the vast array of bureaucracy and manual processes that nearly all tech transfer organizations engage in, which choke the use of new, better and more appropriate ways of marketing innovations.

Tech Transfer Professionals Can't Be Experts in Everything

Why Do We Try to be Smarter Than the Inventor?

An obvious problem in Tech Transfer is that many people, working in TTO's all over the world, put much more value on being completely conversant in the minutiae of the technologies they are tasked with marketing and licensing, than they do the ability to actually market them.  They get brow beaten by professors and researchers who claim that the reason nobody is beating down the door to license their innovations, is because the tech transfer professional doesn't understand the technology well enough to be able to explain its value.  That argument would be completely moot if the folks in the TTO were better at engaging their audience and actually licensing the technology

Why Don't Tech Transfer Offices Know How to Market Their Innovations?

Why Don’t People Seem to Care About All the Cool Innovations That We Produce?

In the interaction between potential licensees and tech transfer offices (TTO's), there are critical missing pieces of an ever-expanding puzzle.  Creating, managing and displaying useful information about their intellectual property in such a way that it is understandable, easily found, accessible in many formats and most importantly, simple to license, seems to be a puzzle that TTO's are unable to solve.

Most tech transfer offices have web sites displaying technical jargon, acronyms, patent application data or the verbatim content from an IP disclosure that some researcher or patent attorney wrote, which they pass off to the public as marketing content for their technological innovations.  With very few exceptions it is clear that TTO's don't understand that by using language that nobody, not even other researchers, are using in web searches, that they don't have any idea who or how many people might be searching for the solution to a particular problem; Potential licensees can't find the ready-made answer, because of this faulty approach.

Instead, Universities have to hope that potential licensee’s will be able to follow a trail of breadcrumbs through academic databases, journal publications and patent searches, to ultimately find a some new innovative technology that could help make the world a better place to live.; or at least solve the problem that sent them searching in the first place 
 

I've spoken to dozens of Tech Transfer professionals and whenever I ask them what they do to market their institution's innovations, to all of the people that they don't already have contact information for, they always seem to fall back on the fallacy of “personal contacts” being the most important tool in business development.  Most don’t see the point or value of embracing the web, engaging new ideas, or learning new marketing skills.  They seem to believe that as long as they put something, anything, on a website, or IP aggregators, like iBridge, Folio Direct, Knowledge Express, Flintbox, etc, then people will automatically be able to find them.

Problems with Tech Transfer, Online Marketing and Licensing Innovation

This is the first in a series of articles about the issues surrounding online marketing and licensing in Technology Transfer Organizations at Universities, Hospitals, National Laboratories and Government Sponsored Research Facilities


In subsequent articles there will be new content posted regularly, from industry leaders, regarding new ways of solving all of the problems identified here.  This blog series will tackle:


  • The Problems Facing Tech transfer Offices
  • Writing Effective Technology Descriptions for the Web
  • Content optimization techniques for Tech Transfer Office websites
  • Understanding How Search Engines See Your Content
  • SEO Tips and Tricks
  • Social Media Strategies
  • Everything You Need to Know About Online Licensing
  • Collecting Data about Your TTO’s Web Visitors and What to Do With It
  • Analysis of IP Listing Sites
  • Why TTO’s Don’t Have to Negotiate
  • Statistics about Web Usage and Scientific Breakthroughs

Darren Cox

Darren Cox
Founder and Chief Evangelist - CaSTT - Commerce and Search for Technology Transfer