Annual report of the Association of Universities Tech Transfer Managers – Part 1 : analysis of 2010 main indicators

For the twentieth year, the Association of Universities Tech transfer Managers published, at the end of 2010, a report that contains many economic indicators related to the development of technology transfer (TT) in the country. These different indicators were established by a group of experts twenty years ago, with the goal of providing a clear vision of the reality of technology transfer landscape in the United States. This 2010 AUTM survey is gives the Office of Science & Technology of the French Consulate an opportunity to report quantitative data on the latest developments in technology transfer in the United States. In this first part, we will put an emphasis on the most significant data of TT in the United States, considered in its entirety.

About the AUTM Survey and data collection:

The surrvey for FY 2010 was held in 2011. Some inquires were sent to the AUTM’s partners from February, 25th to April, 25th.  Out of the 258 universities contacted, 155 responded, for a response rate of 66%. 27 U.S. hospitals and research institutes out of 65 contacted actually responded, for a response rate of 42%. The major American universities are present in the report: MIT, Caltech, Stanford or Harvard or the University of Chicago. The universities of California and Texas, which include several institutions (University of California at San Diego, University of California at Berkeley, etc …) gave a joint response to the questionnaire, and are therefore presented as a system. Some leading universities such as Princeton University didn’t answer to the survey.
  1. Resources for technology transfer:

    1. Staff

One of the main indicators is the number of people who are employed in the office of technology transfer (TTO). In 2010, there were about 2,152 people employed in the 155 universities surveyed. The office’s size is very disparate between the different universities : 22% of the offices employ less than 3 people, 23% between 3 and 6, 30% between 7 and 14 and 25% more than 14 people. Since 2006, the average number of employees in the offices has been increasing regularly.

            B. Research expenditures

Research expenditures continue to increase from 2009 levels. Total research and development spending increased nearly 10% with 59 billion$ total sponsored research expenditure.

  1. Intellectual Properties (IP) and Licences

The number of inventions by university is also a good indicator for the AUTM to measure the activity level of universities related to IP. The data reveals a constant increasing of the researchers’inventions: 113 inventions in 2010 versus 75 in 2001 (average per university)

Regarding the patents statistics, one can observe an increase in the new U.S patent applications field: 12, 281 were filed nationally in 2010 vs 6,389 in 2001. But, 10,517 patent applications were field between 2001 and 2004. The growth rate seems to be plummeting.

Furthermore, the majority of patents filed in the US are being filed by foreign countries. The percentage of patents filed by Universities is stable since 2005, reaching 57%, except in 2006 (62%).

Universities could take advantage of the patents reform to reduce time to obtain a patent (see 3, 4, 5, 6).

First patents reform’s effects are already visible, since the number of Universities patents filed nation-wide increased from 3,417 to 4,469, (31% growth).

AUTM is also paying further attention to the number of Universities patents filed compared to the number of inventions registered to the TTO. Since the early 90’s: between 1993 and 2003, the ratio went from 30% to 60%. However, since 2003, the ratio has remained stable, reaching a plateau around 60%. This may indicate that TTO are actually functioning at full speed and that they can’t file more patents, or that their due diligence process has become more efficient.

The last fundamental aspect of TT regarding Intellectual Property is licenses.

Most of the time, TT allows Technology Transition towards commercialization.

Since 2001, we can notice a significant increase of the number of licenses granted by TTOs. In 2001, the average number of licensed granted by university was 22, against 30 in 2010. The number of active licenses almost doubled in ten years, reaching an average of 221 per university.

AUTM noticed one invention leads to 1.27 license on average (one invention can lead to many licenses). The report also relates how licenses have been awarded to small or big companies. In 2010, 34% of licenses have been awarded to bigger companies, 49% to the small and mid-size companies, and 18% to innovative start-ups.

Licenses are also one of the best ways for universities to generate revenue. The 182 universities, who have been asked to answer a survey, have earned in 2010 more than $ 2.39 billion of growth revenue thanks to licensing. This number slightly increased compared to 2009, but is still far from the $ 3.44 billion observed in 2008.

  1. Startups

In 2010, 652 start-ups were created directly from universities technologies, which represent an increase of 9% from 2009 levels.

Among these startups, many of them exploited a license sold by the universities which maintain a profit-sharing. The AUTM statistics reveals that since 2001, approximately 300 startups are created each year this way. These figures tend to confirm that the startups created in the wake of university academics are all the result of “spin out” as well as “spin off”.


The figures presented by the AUTM reflect the good health of TT activity in the United States. The universities seem to fully benefit from the “Bay-Dohl Act”, passed in 1980, and that allows them to commercialize their inventions, even though the research is largely funded by the federal government. The recent new patent bill (“American Invents Act”) which took years to take shape is also great news for TT. With the shortening of patent granting time, the universities will be able to shorten the time-to-market for their new inventions.

Considered as a whole, indicators seem to be strongly positive regarding TT in the US. However, statistics tend to fluctuate depending on Universities. TT activity may strongly vary from one university to the other. Second observation: the improvement over the last years has been very slow, revealing that TT activity seems to have reached a plateau amongst Universities. We will answer further questions in the second part of the article.

Read the full article (in French)


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