State Auditor General Assesses Tech Transfer Programs at Arizona’s Public Universities

June 04, 2008

To speed the commercialization of technologies developed within the state's three public research universities, the Arizona state auditor general has made several recommendations that also may be of value to tech transfer efforts and academic institutions across the country. 

Commissioned by the state legislature to conduct the assessment, the Office of the Auditor General analyzed the structure and performance of the individual technology transfer strategies adopted by the University of Arizona (UA), Arizona State University (ASU) and Northern Arizona University (NAU). The final report, released in mid-May, also benchmarks each school against at least 15 of its peers.
The auditor’s recommendations could be applied to institutions with any size of research portfolios. The three Arizona institutions vary greatly in the amount of R&D conducted – UA had $535 million in research expenditures in 2006, ranking 13th nationally, ASU $132 million and NAU had $21 million.
The three institutions also vary in their approach to management of their tech transfer efforts. The University of Arizona’s commercialization operations are performed in-house by its technology transfer office under the vice president of research. Alternatively, tech transfer activities at the other two schools are both managed by a single and separate external legal entity, Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE).
The report divides its analysis and recommendations for Arizona’s public universities into three areas: increasing commercially viable invention disclosures, improving marketing and negotiations processes, and managing conflicts of interest.
Suggestions to improve each university’s overall performance, which may be of interest to other universities, include:

  • Provide quarterly reports to deans and research-intensive department chairs tracking and reporting on technology transfer activity;
  • Add technology transfer components into evaluations for faculty promotion and tenure;
  • Host annual recognition ceremonies for faculty active and productive in tech transfer activities;
  • Encourage research-intensive departments to invite staff from the tech transfer office to their meetings;
  • Station tech transfer employees with marketing and licensing experience within prolific research initiatives and programs;
  • Develop mechanisms for informing employees of the university’s tech transfer processes, including instructional workshops for the faculty; and,
  • Notify the tech transfer offices of new hires to initiate new relationships.

Metrics tracked from year to year within the report for comparative purposes include:

  • Amount of research expenditures;
  • Total number of disclosures;
  • Licensing offers per $10 million in research expenditures;
  • Disclosures per $10 million in research expenditures; and,
  • Licensing income per $10 million in research expenditures.

The Arizona State Auditor’s report, which also tracks the revenues, expenses, distributions and repayments for each university’s tech transfer operations, is available at:

Arizonatech transfer