Panel says patents, intellectual property should factor into tenure, promotion

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marchase wAs university missions expand to include economic development, weight should be given to research that leads to patents, licensing and commercialization when considering faculty tenure and advancement. So says a group of senior university officials who advocate changing the academic culture in a paper published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The authors, including Richard Marchase, Ph.D., UAB vice president for Research and Economic Development, say activities that translate to product commercialization should not replace traditional scholarly pursuits such as teaching, mentoring and publishing — but they should be considered equally. If they are valuable to the nation and the institution,they also should be valuable to an academic career.

UAB enhanced its technology transfer efforts with the 2008 creation of Innovation Depot, a technology center and business incubation program that focuses on developing emerging biotechnology/life science, information technology, engineering, and service businesses. The largest technology incubator in the Southeast, it is a public-private economic development effort, funded by the Birmingham regional business community, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and other leading private foundations, UAB, the City of Birmingham, and Jefferson County.

But Marchase said there now is a fundamental disconnect between technology-transfer activities and faculty incentives. “Beyond the monetary benefit of licensing, which is small in most cases, there is little to no benefit to merit raises, tenure and career advancement,” he said.

“Universities would do well to encourage and support bright, young faculty and trainees to build careers that combine research and scholarship with translating that research to the market,” Marchase said.

For the university, the benefits of technology-transfer include license and royalty income, plus increased research funding, institutional prestige, high levels of scholarship and support for student success.

Marchase and lead author Paul R. Sanberg,Distinguished University Professor and senior vice president for Research and Technology at the University of South Florida, were joined by co-authors affiliated with the California Institute of Technology,the University of Delaware, the University of Minnesota, Purdue University and the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

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