As part of NIST’s recent symposium on “unleashing American innovation,” the CEO of the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) read a talk. Let’s work through his talk and see what we can learn. I have made a transcript so you can follow along.
All right. Thank you. As Marcia has mentioned, I’m the CEO of AUTM and we are the nonprofit leader in supporting the development and commercialization of university and nonprofit research that is changing the world.
It’s weird to hear someone claim that a professional lobbying organization is “the leader” in “supporting” anything. What does it mean to “lead” in “supporting” “commercialization” of “research”? It’s rather like a cheerleader taking credit for the football team by talking about being better at cheers than others. The strange word among all these strange words (and thus the quote marks) is “supporting.” One might think that “supporting” suggests that university inventors might turn to AUTM for assistance when they–the investigators–see a reason to develop or commercialize their “research” (or, perhaps, patentable inventions). That’s the idea of “support”: “It looks like we need some cheerleaders here, folks–let’s contact AUTM, the leader in that sort of thing.”
“Support” implies that AUTM is not the primary actor–that some non-AUTM actor makes the decision to develop and commercialize and some non-AUTM actor does the actual work. Since AUTM’s members are mostly university licensing officers, the AUTM CEO’s use of “supporting” further suggests that AUTM’s members are also involved in support, and aren’t the ones making the decisions and doing the work. In part, this suggestion is entirely spot on–AUTM’s members don’t, for the most part, have the standing to decide what “research” should be developed and commercialized. But in another part, this suggestion is almost entirely wrong, because many AUTM members will assert that they have the responsibility and authority under their universities’ patent policies to make such decisions on behalf of the university and therefore they do not merely “support” development and commercialization–they do the development and commercialization on behalf of their universities.
Perhaps the AUTM CEO means that AUTM the organization “supports” the AUTM members in their attempts to do it. AUTM cheerleads the cheerleaders who claim that they should decide what the football team will do next. After all, if one decides the play on the field, it is so much easier to plan out the proper cheers.
The CEO in fact has it backwards–universities pay the dues for their licensing professionals to join AUTM and attend AUTM’s conferences and those licensing professionals make most of the presentations. AUTM is the leader in extracting money from universities–the universities support AUTM, not the other way around. If AUTM went out and raised its own money, and used that money to assist universities, then perhaps we could talk about AUTM’s support.
And even if one allowed AUTM its claim that it supported “development and commercialization of university and nonprofit research,” we would still have to point out that virtually none of that “research” is in fact “commercialized.” Most of it stales behind patent paywalls, not available for direct access by industry, not even for research purposes. For AUTM, “commercialization” means creating patent positions and offering these for exclusive licensing. Supporting “commercialization” means encouraging universities to find ways to create more patent positions. What is “commercialization” where nothing comes out the other end? Constipalization?
As for the tag “that is changing the world”–what does that tag modify? Research? Or the development and commercialization (of research)? Or is it the act of supporting? Perhaps it doesn’t matter–the AUTM CEO wants everyone to understand that AUTM supports stuff that changes the world. The implication, of course, is that those changes are a good thing. But the CEO could be correct in his claim and the changes in the world could be nasty ones. Continue reading