What Should Be on the Next UW President’s Commercialization Agenda?

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the rich flow of royalties from the UW’s biggest technology licensing success—the so-called Hall Patents, which expired last year. Asked to comment for this story, Jandhyala said there are “a few things in flux” and proposed an interview in the coming weeks.

In the absence of the Hall Patent revenues, the new president will need to find new ways to pay for CoMotion’s activities, balancing them against needs across campus in the context of a tight-fisted state legislature. Cauce, whose responsibility as provost included budgeting, will be no stranger to this balancing act. Jandhyala, too, has received a generally favorable reception.

“I have great confidence in Vikram Jandhyala to move us in the direction of a balanced view, and to decrease the substantial friction that still exists in the licensing process,” says computer science professor Ed Lazowksa.

DeVore and O’Neill, a law professor, say the commercialization momentum Young built in a relatively short time stems from existing interest among university leadership and faculty, particularly in science, technology, and engineering fields, who want to see their research applied, which increasingly means commercialization.

“I have been very impressed with the speed of action and building momentum at the UW on this subject, and can only believe that it reflects the depth of latent demand for this kind of thinking that was already pervasive in the institution,” DeVore says.

There are also economic forces pushing for more public-private partnerships, either in the form of sponsored research, such as the new Boeing Advanced Research Center in the UW’s mechanical engineering department, or intellectual property licensing and startup formation.

“I think part of it is financial need and the hope that we can figure out some other funding models for the 21st century research university at a time when public investment is declining,” O’Neill says. “And that’s not just state funding. Federal research grants are tight—they’ve always been tight—but they’ve been particularly tight since the sequestration.”

O’Neill says she campaigned for faculty leadership in part on the need for a comprehensive overhaul of UW intellectual property policies, which have a direct impact on commercialization. While she sees the need for a more efficient process of technology licensing and commercial partnerships, she and other faculty also want to ensure that research integrity is maintained, conflicts of interest are managed, and costs and revenues are fairly allocated and distributed.

It’s a significant challenge, particularly in a place as large and diverse as a major research university.

“Business models are being invented as we go,” O’Neill says. “This is new territory for us. It’s potentially very exciting. It’s a potential source of both reputation and public benefit, and money for the university. There are a lot of moving parts, and we have a lot of work to do to get it to work properly and fairly in very diverse settings.”

Young convened an advisory committee on IP policy, which has been working closely with relevant Faculty Senate committees, O’Neill says. The plan is to hold listening sessions this spring and draft a revised policy for discussion and review possibly in the second half of the year. She sees no reason why work on revising IP policy would be derailed by the leadership change, but a new president will of course want to add his or her imprint.

Intertwined with IP policy is the question of how to handle faculty who have—or want to have—a foot on campus and a foot in industry. The Boeing engineers in the new research center are considered affiliate faculty. Some professors, such as electrical engineering whiz Shwetak Patel, who is co-founder of a startup and chief scientist at Belkin, say they need that kind of interaction with industry, particularly in fast-changing fields, to ensure the instruction they’re giving students is relevant.

O’Neill says the Faculty Senate has discussed the need for new or different titles “to accommodate the kind of person who’s coming in from the outside and probably doesn’t want to be here permanently, and isn’t going to be tenured.”

How should these faculty be compensated? How should rights to their inventions be allocated between themselves, their departments, the university, and the companies they work with?

These are open questions that the UW seems to be handling on a case-by-case basis now. It will be up to the next president whether—and how—to set a university-wide policy on these questions.

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