New reporting metrics recommended for research institutions’ technology transfer operations

Darrell West, director for the Center for Technology at Brookings, recently wrote about the need for a consistent set of metrics to be used to evaluate research institutions’ technology transfer operations, suggesting the lack of uniformity makes it difficult for managers to learn what works best.

Top among West’s recommendations is a type of funds flow analysis. Currently technology transfer departments tend to focus on outputs: inventions, patents, licenses, start-ups, etc., rather than on precisely how these outputs are achieved.  Most schools report too little data on money in and money out.

Most metrics don’t reveal how well institutions of higher learning are doing in regard to research transfer and spinoffs.  By comparing how much money is coming in versus going out, and what kind of university infrastructure is necessary to support transfer activities, better metrics would provide clearer incentives for university faculty and improve people’s understanding of research efforts.

West recommends standardizing reporting forms that include details sources of income, expenses, and a valuation of the innovation portfolio.

On the income side, [the report forms] should note royalties, licensing fees, legal settlements, legal fee reimbursements, equity investments with gains realized and unrealized, equity sales, university loans, extraordinary income, and general fund investments.  [Expenses] should detail salaries and benefits, rent, overhead, legal fees, mandatory disbursements, and program outlays.