UNR president: Technology commercialization not all that easy

Dr. Milton Glick wants to dampen any big expectations that commercialization of research from labs at the University of Nevada, Reno, will rescue the northern Nevada economy.

But the president of UNR says consortiums of mid-sized universities might be an important step toward moving research into the private sector.

A mere handful of universities across the nation account for a lion's share of successful commercialization, Glick told about 125 participants at the University Economic Development Association's annual summit in Reno last week.

In fact, 77 percent of the licensing revenues generated by technology products from 1995 to 2005 flowed back to just 10 institutions, says the Association of University Technology Managers.

And researchers at Change Magazine found that much of the revenue generated by universities from commercial applications of their research comes from a few home-run products Gatorade from the University of Florida to name one high-profile example.

Mid-sized schools such as UNR, Glick said, face multiple challenges.

For one, schools that successfully generate significant commercial applications for university research typically have a large portfolio of technology.

That allows a school's specialists in technology transfer to work with detailed knowledge of the research as well as meaningful contacts among investors and companies in their sector.

UNR, on the other hand, has a staff of three technology-transfer executives that look to commercialize research from varied laboratories across the campus.

Specialized knowledge also allows technology-transfer experts to learn more about the technology that is needed by the private sector and communicate those needs to university researchers.

And a critical mass, Glick said, provides more mentoring to faculty members who otherwise might not be thinking about commercial application of their work.

"Faculty are the critical link," he told the university economic development group.

He said individual faculty members as well as university administrators don't need to be convinced that finding useful applications for research is the right thing to do.

"If we have a discovery that can be made useful, it is the responsibility of the university to make it useful," the UNR president said.

Creation of consortiums among mid-sized schools, Glick said, may begin to create the critical mass that's important in successful technology-transfer operations.

In Utah, for instance, business leaders in 2006 successfully lobbied the Legislature to create a $179 million economic development initiative.

The project included $160 million for construction of new labs at the University of Utah and Utah State University as well as $15 million in ongoing funding for research teams at the two schools.

Today, the University of Utah ranks first in the nation along with Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the creation of companies that are based on university research.


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