Setting up a Technology Commercialization Office at a Non-Entrepreneurial University: An Insider's Look at Practices and Culture

Setting up a Technology Commercialization Office at a Non-Entrepreneurial University: An Insider's Look at Practices and Culture

The Bayh Dole Act has opened the way to the entrepreneurial university. However, considering that entrepreneurial universities are still concentrated around the US and Western Europe, this paper offers qualitative evidence as to transaction costs that may limit the global appeal of such institutions

Topics: Management , Policy
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The introduction of the entrepreneurial university and the accompanying drive for science to acquire commercial relevance has created tensions (Slaughter and Leslie, 1997; Slaughter and Rhoades, 2000; Ferne, 1995; Bennich-Bjorkman, 1997). One reason is that faculty scientists are nowadays expected to think as entrepreneurs (Lockett and Wright, 2005), and many feel uneasy with both their participation in the commercialization process and the role of University Technology Commercialization Offices (TCO) (Martinelli et al., 2008, Louis et al., 1989). Considering that the main resource for the creation of entrepreneurial universities is human capital (Guerrero and Urbano, 2012), the way faculty scientists view their role and their respective goodwill toward entrepreneurship and the TCO, must be considered when building an entrepreneurial environment (Krueger et al., 2000). Looking into faculty's perceptions is important because they encompass attitudes and values shaping informal rules of interaction in organisations (North, 1990; Vanaelst et al., 2006). 

The few studies analysing entrepreneurship among faculty scientists indicate that scientists have raised concerns about the role of markets in influencing academic freedom (Baldini, 2008; Davis et al., 2011), especially in terms of autonomy in self-selecting a research agenda and the respective method of dissemination (Jacobsen et al., 2001, Davis et al., 2011). Their concerns relate to the ways the pressure to patent can skew research priorities at the expense of fundamental research, and shift the attention of faculty away from activities best suited to their skills (Nelson, 2001), forcing universities to behave more like firms. Others fear that university patenting may restrict communication with colleagues (Blumenthal et al., 1996; Martinelli, et al., 2008), increase secrecy (Blumenthal et al., 1986), the withholding of data (Campbell et al., 2000), and inevitably limit the dissemination of knowledge (Calderini and Franzoni, 2004; Lee, 2000). This article builds on these insights and offers qualitative evidence about a related category of reasons for the hostile attitude towards commercialization of academic research: lack of a common mindset between TCO's and research faculty. 

It frequently escapes attention that the prerequisite for arranging a commercial deal is the existence of shared understandings and orientation towards common goals between the TCO, faculty and industry, so that a TCO assesses potential opportunities and sets up well defined legal relationships between the university and a commercial firm (Kaghan and Lounsbury, 2006). These shared understandings play an important role since faculty scientists are effectively gate keepers that control the informal flow of knowledge that is indispensable to the translation of academic research to products with commercial value (Agrawal and Henderson, 2002; Agrawal, 2006; Thursby et al., 2001; Thursby and Thursby, 2002). It follows that faculty's views of the merits of commercialisation and their role in the process can hinder or even sabotage technology transfer. Dispersing myths and addressing suspicion and deep misunderstandings held by communities of practice, such as the community of faculty researchers, is of paramount importance in order to develop a sense of comfort and build trust among faculty and the TCO. 

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