Sunday, September 05, 2010

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…

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Darren Cox

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