How the “Best” Universities and Companies Partner for Tech Transfer:
Differing assumptions and expectations have produced a huge gap — a veritable “Valley of Death” — between industry and university tech transfer offices. So wrote Mariann Jelinek in the Spring 2005 CIMS TMR.
Going beyond the usual questionnaire and patent analysis, Jelinek, professor of business strategy at the College of William and Mary, interviewed industry people who deal with technology transfer and the university tech transfer officers who license university discovered science, most often biotechnology. She found that the most experienced and successful partners find ways around the many obvious difficulties. From those experiences, she recommended:
• Run university licensing like a numbers game; i.e., plant many seeds, so that the few successful discoveries can underwrite many others. Write contracts to facilitate many deals at relatively low cost, with a possibility for university participation in any huge hit.
• Prepare industry partners to explain the obvious — margins, the available cost parameters for their business — to validate their negotiating approach and create common ground for agreement.
• Institutional culture matters. The better, more experienced universities are highly flexible and interested in negotiating to find a way. So too, the better, more experienced industry partners. Persistence, on the part of industry partners as well as other parties to the negotiation — the principal researchers from the university and industry, for instance — will be rewarded by success, and success in one deal will very likely lead to further successes.
• Dissect failures and report their causes to the other side; such information will make a difference. A single failure doesn’t necessarily preclude subsequent success, but unless the parties learn from it, there may be no second chance. Ongoing relationships require “the right” institutional partner and the right problem-solving attitude, just as strategic alliances with industry partners do.
• Personal chemistry matters: Individuals on both sides can make all the difference. A committed university researcher or enthusiastic Tech Transfer Officer can push for response; a committed industry contact can assure that the agreement is not derailed by lawyers, NIH, defensiveness, or simple delay. Making expectations explicit and sharing of constraints helps to build the trust that facilitates good communication and satisfaction.
• Building such good relationships takes time and effort, and makes best sense when more than a single research project is envisioned — even if every relationship begins with a single, simple transaction.
For more, see Profs. Jelinek and Stephen Markham’s paper, “Framing IP Relations: Industry, Universities and IP Dynamics,” in IEEE Trans. Engineering Management 54:2 (May 2007), pp. 257-267). Honorable Mention for Best Paper of the Year.
Boost Performance in Diverse Work Groups
Diversity has important consequences for R&D, three Rutgers University professors determined in the first in-depth study of the subject. Reporting in the Summer 1995 Technology Management Report, Nancy DiTomaso, George F. Farris and Rene Cordero identified key “leverage points” for increasing job performance and satisfaction among members of most diverse groups. Among the most important:
• Challenging work assignments, especially during an employee’s first year.
• No punishment for risk-takers who fail.
• Ample opportunity to lead projects.
• Influence in determining work goals.
• Effective dual ladder and performance appraisal skills.
• Immediate supervisors who are skillful systems leaders, catalysts and technical experts. The most effective leaders, however, can recognize and master different approaches to different groups (e.g., “sponsoring” vs. “mentoring”).
For more, see their 1994 CIMS report “Managing Diversity in R&D” at http://cims.ncsu.edu
Fit Managers’ Abilities to Their Rung on the Management Ladder
As R&D managers advance to different functions, the cognitive and interpersonal abilities they need in order to perform these activities well also change. On the basis of these findings, George Mason University psychologists Lee Freidman, Edwin A. Fleishman and Jennifer Mikulka offered the following advice in the Fall/Winter 1993 TMR:
• When determining who should be promoted to upper management, carefully assess those abilities — such as oral defense and resistance to premature judgment — that are particular important to strategic planning.
• Recognize that outstanding first-line managers may not necessarily become outstanding middle managers. It’s better to promote the person with outstanding social sensitivity skills.
• Don’t rule out promoting certain first-line managers directly to upper management. Both first-line and upper-management tasks require significantly more of several cognitive abilities, including information ordering and oral comprehension.
• Successful mid-level managers may not possess the cognitive abilities needed to succeed at the top.
• Make sure your current training programs are systematically providing managers with experience in the actual activities that will dominate at higher levels in the organization.
You’ll find their complete research findings in two CIMS reports: “Cognitive and Interpersonal Abilitites and General Activity Allocation as Predictors of R&D Managerial Performance” (1966) and “Cognitive Competencies Related to Management Performance Requirements in R&D Organizations” (1990).
Align Product Development with Organizational Design
Don’t take a “one size fits all” approach to product development processes,” cautioned Tulane University professor Laura B. Cardinal and co-authors of a 2003 paper, “Fit and Misfit in New Product Development: Designing Projects for Different Environments.”
Their research “demonstrated that distinct product environments have different performance priorities, that there are tradeoffs among these priorities, and that the performance implications of managerial decisions (e.g., organizational design) hinge on understanding these issues.”
Bottom line: Congruence between project environment (i.e., science-based, scale-driven, or specialized) and project design results in superior product performance; incongruence, on the other hand, results in projects that take longer to complete, cost more, contain more errors, and can meet the wrong performance objectives (e.g., excel in precision when duration or cost is more important).