Tech Transfer People are Underpaid

Technology transfer managers are woefully underpaid (and understaffed). As the current issue of Nature Biotechnology points out, U.S. universities are making a rapidly-rising amount of money from licenses and options — more than $1-billion in 2003 — but only a handful of universities have more than a skeleton staff managing the stuff:

Most of these people, of course, are pure bureaucrats. Many of them are sweet and smart people who know what is right and try to do it, but they (and tech transfer in general) are hamstrung by it being a backroom service function, not a proactive process of figuring out what the university has and how it can best get it out and (shudder) profit from it.

Some university will eventually figure out the obvious — that if you pay private sector wages you can get private sector people doing tech transfer. Look at what has happened with the best-performing pension funds at U.S. universities, Yale and Harvard, where the principals earn millions, but their performance makes that a relative bargain against the returns they turn in and the management fees the universities save.

Why does something similar not hold in tech transfer? Arguably the most important non-financial asset a research university has is its technologies, patented and unpatented. While some will disagree with this idea purely on principle — some don’t like public universities profiting from inventions paid for by the public purse — let’s ignore that for a moment and state the obvious: When universities start paying venture-style comp to people doing tech transfer then they will get better people and far better returns.


  1. some people are doing a decent job…our joint alma mater QU has PARTEQ which seems to be a fairly succesful effort to get university tech out into the market.
    of course some schools are a little too giddy about tech transfer. the media lab at MIT seemed to be nothing more than a product lab for certain companies at one point.