University turns discoveries to dollars

Timothy Mulcahy

Have you ever come up with the right answer despite using flawed data? That seems to be the case with The Minnesota DailyâÄôs editorial âÄúA patented alternative,âÄù published Dec. 2. The editorial staff asserts that commercialization of University-based technology and research partnerships with businesses represent important opportunities for the University. In fact, I have made that same point to the Board of Regents and University leadership repeatedly over the past five years and will again at my annual report to the regents Dec. 10. Unfortunately, the editorial and a related piece (the Nov. 24 article âÄúU struggles to market technologyâÄù) contain serious misinterpretations of data and mischaracterizations of the efforts of the Office for Technology Commercialization (OTC) to commercialize the UniversityâÄôs intellectual property. Recognition of the fundamental significance of tech commercialization convinced us to completely overhaul the UniversityâÄôs technology commercialization operation more than three years ago. In contrast to the DailyâÄôs mistaken characterization of its performance, the new technology commercialization program is delivering excellent results. OTC executive director Jay SchranklerâÄôs Dec. 3 letter to the editor provides a number of statistics from fiscal year 2009 that elucidate that point. While the Daily apparently does not think this recent record worthy of acclaim (in its defense, the Daily was using faulty, outdated information), our achievements in tech commercialization have attracted the attention of many of our university peers, several of whom have sought out OTC as a benchmark for best practices. The University of Arizona will visit later this month, the fourth such visit this year. The Daily editorial cites the 75 percent return-on-investment reported for New York University in a 2006 Forbes study as evidence of how anemic the UniversityâÄôs tech transfer has been in comparison. However, what was not reported in the editorial is that NYUâÄôs âÄúastronomicalâÄù return-on-investment in that year resulted from an upfront monetization of a blockbuster technology, rather than a multi-year royalty payment schedule more typical for technology commercialization agreements. If the University had agreed to a similar marketing strategy with Ziagen, attributing its current cumulative royalty stream to a single upfront monetization as happened at NYU and then applying the Forbes methodology to calculate our âÄúone-timeâÄù return-on-investment, it would have been 82 percent. The University values its partnerships with business and has worked hard over the past few years to improve such relationships. The University is an active member of the University-Industry Demonstration Partnership (UIDP), a consortium of top research universities and leading corporate sponsors of university research hosted by the National Academies of Science. The UIDP is dedicated to forging more productive public-private relationships. I currently serve as national UIDP president. Once again, the Daily landed on the right answer despite its lack of a full understanding of the facts. None of this is to suggest that we canâÄôt improve our performance in the technology commercialization arena or our partnerships with business. Every decision we make has those objectives in mind. Three years ago we created an office, recently renamed Office of Business Relations, specifically for the purpose of facilitating interaction between businesses and the University. But the University as a whole, as suggested by the Daily, does need to do a better job of encouraging and nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset. We only hope that once provided with accurate information, the Daily and those who read its opinions will âÄî as did those âÄúinvestorsâÄù referenced in the editorial as having testified to a state House committee about the University being âÄúdifficult to work withâÄù âÄî admit they were misinformed and that things at the University are on the right track after all. Timothy Mulcahy, vice president for research, University of Minnesota