Technology Transfer

Somewhere in the neighborhood of business development, venture capital, and patent law is the somewhat lesser known field of technology transfer.  You may not be familiar with the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, but it basically paved the way for universities to commercialize and profit from research that was federally funded (i.e., nearly all university research).  

For any research university, there are technologies being developed that can be patented and either licensed to outside companies or spun off into new ventures.

The technology transfer office is in charge of registering and managing these intellectual properties and acting as the intermediary between the institution and any outside parties that may be interested in the intellectual properties.

Entry Points

If you are currently in the process of completing your degree, you may want to check in with your school’s technology transfer office to see if they offer any internship opportunities.  Some technology transfer offices have formal internship programs for current graduate students, but even if yours doesn’t, it won’t hurt to contact them and inquire about any opportunities.  If you have already completed your degree, you are likely looking for a position as a licensing assistant, licensing associate, or assistant director for a specific field of technology (agriculture, engineering, life sciences, etc.).  The specific title will depend on the institution, the size of their technology transfer office, and how it is structured.  Some universities also offer a postdoctoral fellowship opportunity in their technology transfer office for recent graduates, so that is something else worth looking into.

Who are the Employers?

Nearly every research university has a technology transfer office, and you can find university websites below:

Also, many of the organizations that are currently involved in technology transfer can be found here

Application Process

If you are able to go the internship route, making a good impression can go a long way to make the right connections in securing a position after graduation.  Technology transfer is a fairly interconnected industry so even if there are no opportunities in your technology transfer office, the people there may know of current opportunities at other offices.  Otherwise, all universities have a “Careers” site from which you can search current openings, including those within the technology transfer office.

Career Progression

Depending on the size and structure of the technology transfer office, successful progression will usually follow the route of licensing assistant to licensing associate to assistant director to associate director to director/executive director.

Work Hours

Work hours are generally of the 9-5 variety.  Positions of higher responsibility will be more conscious of working extra hours to meet specific deadlines or execute deals in progress, but an expectation of 40 hour work weeks is reasonable.  The work hours and schedule is definitely one of the strong points in comparing a position in technology transfer to one in a related field such as business development, venture capital, or patent law.

Compensation

Reasonable salary expectations would be:
~$55-65K for licensing assistant
~$75-90K for licensing associate
~$95-115K for assistant/associate director
~$125-160K for director/executive director

Exit Options

There are many fields of employment that involve the skills used in technology transfer.  For those willing to sacrifice some of the work/life balance afforded by working in the university setting, positions in business development, venture capital, or patent law are most closely related (although for positions in patent law you will likely need to obtain patent agent certification through the USPTO).