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AAU & APLU Committees Recommend Principles for University Technology Transfer Policy

Committees formed by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Association of American Universities (AAU) to examine and affirm university policies and values regarding innovation, technology transfer, and commercialization today each released a set of principles and recommendations for institutions. The groups’ recommendations detail steps universities can take to ensure that institutional policies align with these principles and are readily transparent to the public, policymakers, and potential university partners.

President Satish Tripathi of the University at Buffalo and Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, Senior Vice President for Knowledge Enterprise Development at Arizona State University, led the APLU Task Force on Managing University Intellectual Property. Presidents Robert Brown of Boston University and Eric Kaler of the University of Minnesota led the AAU Working Group on Technology Transfer and Intellectual Property.

In describing why it was issuing its report, the AAU task force wrote, “Universities have a responsibility to be good stewards of discoveries and intellectual property developed from research supported by federal funding…We believe the actions we are recommending here can help assure the public and policymakers that universities continue to be focused on their primary missions [of education, research, and public service], and that their technology transfer operations are being managed in a way that serves these missions.”

In issuing its report, APLU’s Task Force on Managing University Intellectual Property noted, “The Task Force is issuing this statement of recommendations to highlight important principles that have been under review by task force members, to make clear to the public and interested parties the fundamental commitments of our community, and to prompt universities to begin taking steps to ensure that local policies are in line with these principles…The task force recommends that university presidents convene a senior level committee on their campuses to review these recommendations and discuss implementation.”

The two groups noted that a primary mission of universities is to serve the nation by ensuring that discoveries made on their campuses can be developed by the private sector for the benefit of consumers. However, the groups noted that while universities act responsibly and appropriately, they have not always clearly defined the principles that guide such work or communicated them publicly.

The principles and recommendation from the two groups include the following:

  • The primary focus of university technology transfer efforts should be to advance the public interest and public good. Both groups recommend that institutions underscore this purpose by developing a clear mission or purpose statement for the management of intellectual property, in accordance with the first recommendation of the National Research Council’s 2010 report, “Managing University Intellectual Property in the Public Interest.”
  • Universities should have high-level policies in place to ensure that intellectual property management and technology transfer practices align with both the public interest and their core research, education and service missions. Technology transfer practices must not conflict with these missions. Many universities already have high-level policies in place, which help ensure that they are managing intellectual property in the public interest.
  • Universities should not deal with patent trolls. With respect to so-called “patent trolls,” many universities have policies in place restricting their dealing with such entities. Universities that do not already have such policies in place should establish them. Such policies need not negate the ability of universities to rightfully employ outside counsel or other organizations to legitimately enforce their intellectual property rights against infringement.
  • Technology transfer operations should be evaluated and assessed by several means, not solely or even primarily revenue generation. Revenues generated from university management of intellectual property should be viewed as a positive outcome, providing resources that further advance research and education. However, the primary force driving technology transfer should be the transfer of knowledge and new discoveries from universities to the private sector and others to benefit the public.
  • It is critical for universities to continue to share best practices for managing intellectual property and improving technology transfer operations in ways that serve the public interest. Effective practices especially include those that ensure the quick movement of new ideas and technologies generated with federal support from the laboratory to the marketplace.

AAU and APLU are recommending to their member universities that have not already done so to take specific actions to protect and preserve the principles detailed in the reports. The associations will continue to support efforts related to the recommendations. APLU’s task force will collect examples of innovative and effective practices in university intellectual property management and will disseminate those examples later this year. AAU will take steps to identify measures and methodologies for evaluating the effectiveness of technology transfer beyond revenue generation. Both associations will discuss the recommendations at upcoming meetings of their presidents and provosts.

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