Inside Texas Tech: Office of Research Commercialization

May 18, 2018

Researchers across the Texas Tech University System have the opportunity to take their inventions or discoveries to the commercial marketplace and get a sizable financial benefit. David Snow, the senior managing director of the Office of Research Commercialization, says the ultimate goal is to help society.

“Once you get a product into the market or a service into the market, it could be as simple as a software and tool that benefits society or banking for example, but it can also be a new therapeutic—something that really impacts millions of lives around the world in a way that helps them treat a particular disease state, or a vaccine. Those things are extremely important in terms of benefiting society and that’s ultimately what we want to do,” he says.

A 1980 law, the Bayh-Dole Act, allows universities that receive federal research dollars to have a mechanism to protect intellectual property, get it to a commercial partner and hopefully get it into the marketplace. In fiscal year 2017, the system got about $31.3 million in federal grants.

The money the system reaps from the commercialization of discoveries helps recoup funding spent to achieve the innovations.

Snow says the Tech system is ahead of the curve in regards to expenditures leading to invention disclosures. The average nationally is one disclosure per every $2.7 million spent on research. For Tech’s system, it’s one invention disclosure for every $1.9 million spent.

“When you start quadrupling the number of existing agreements that the institution has, then you’re going to start seeing licensing revenue build, pretty significantly over the next few years, he says.

In 2013, the Office of Research Commercialization, or ORC, received 83 invention disclosures and recouped $436,000 from licensing revenues. Last year, there were 128 invention disclosures and $991,000 was recouped from licensing, which was a 46.6 percent increase from 2015.

The ORC begins the commercialization process when a researcher discloses an invention. Once disclosed, ORC personnel meet with the inventor and do searches for similar technology, patents or licenses.

Then work is done to assess patentability and marketability. If positive, the ORC starts seeking protection for the intellectual property and develops a commercialization strategy.

“It’s designed to create a dialogue with faculty inventors so that this office isn’t a black hole,” he says. “When you disclose an invention, you need to get feedback whether we’re interested in filing a patent or not, so that you can go publish.”

One of two scenarios happens next. Depending on the type of technology and it’s development stage, the ORC will work with the inventor and local entrepreneurs to create a start-up company or can license the technology directly to an established company. It’s the licensing of patent rights that helps bring in revenue. Sometimes, Snow says, a researcher must fine-tune their work to make their discovery more attractive.

“More so than anything else, has been the development of really transparent decision making processes, they help faculty understand whether or not we’re going to make a decision, how fast we’re going to do it and why we made the decision. And that dialogue has been invaluable.”

In 2015, Texas Tech’s Board of Regents revisited how net revenues from inventions are dispersed. The creator or creators now get 40 percent of the net revenue and the ORC gets 30 percent. The remaining 30 percent is divided between the system institution, the department, center or institute and the college or school.

“Our mission is really to partner with innovators, to partner with inventors, so that we can actually help facilitate the commercial use of their intellectual property.”