Ad Hoc Faculty Committee MIT Technology Transfer in the Twenty First Century


MIT has been, and remains, a world leader in the effective transfer of technology from the Institute to industry.  Our policies and practices for fostering technology transfer and for managing intellectual property rights and technology licensing are well developed and widely copied.  These policies were formulated in part to accord with the Bayh-Dole act of 1980, which seeks to encourage universities to transfer results from federally sponsored research to the commercial marketplace.  They are also designed to preserve and uphold MIT’s fundamental academic values and principles, which must not be compromised.

As a measure of our success, MIT issues well over 100 licenses every year of which 20-30 engender new start-up companies.  Licensing revenues are not the prime motivation for our technology transfer, but they have been a welcome source of income for inventors, departments and the Institute.  More important has been the widespread perception that MIT is a place that couples well to the real world, making tangible and practical contributions to the economy and the welfare of the nation and the world.

Although the Bayh-Dole legislation has remained in place for 28 years, many other things have changed. These changes give rise to new opportunities, new sources of competition, and greater variety and complexity.  Near-term economic pressure has precipitated a massive reduction in in-house industrial research laboratories. At the same time, many U.S. universities have expanded their partnerships with industry around technology transfer.   The globalization of the marketplace has been accompanied by a globalization of technology transfer.  Industries have established research and development centers around the globe, often in partnership with local universities which increasingly strive to become more like their American counterparts.  

The scope and nature of intellectual property have also undergone profound changes.  The explosions of information technology and biotechnology, for example, have brought new fields, new players, and new forms of IP to a realm once dominated by the engineering of devices or products. Ever greater numbers of MIT’s faculty and students are interested or already engaged in technology transfer.  MIT’s “entrepreneurial ecosystem” is flourishing, with more and more participants and ever-greater levels of activity, which places increasing demands of timeliness and alacrity on our technology transfer processes. The realization that many of the world’s greatest challenges – energy, environment, water, and health – can only be addressed by devising new technologies and transferring them to the marketplace amplifies the sense of urgency.

Companies large and small continue to seek opportunities to work with MIT’s faculty, staff and students. The MIT Energy Initiative, for example, has attracted broad industrial interest and sponsorship. Overall, MIT’s proportion of industrial research sponsorship is several times that of most of our peers. However, on some occasions adherence to our intellectual property policies has impeded or prevented us from reaching agreement with a potential industrial sponsor or entering into multi-party agreements.  To some degree, this is the inevitable consequence of differences between the academic and commercial realms.  However, our goal should be to minimize such difficulties as much as possible, without compromising our core principles and values.

All these factors warrant a review and reassessment of MIT’s approach to technology transfer.  Therefore, the Provost, in consultation with the Chair of the Faculty, is appointing an ad hoc Faculty Committee on MIT Technology Transfer in the 21st Century, charged as follows:

  1. Survey and understand the current forces and trends in university-industry technology transfer.
  2. Review MIT’s policies, procedures and practices related to technology transfer and industrial sponsorship of research, and the principles on which they rest.
  3. Review similar policies, procedures and practices at peer institutions to assess them and to seek best practices.
  4. Solicit input and ideas from the MIT community and outside individuals in both the private and public sectors.
  5. Coordinate with the separate ad hoc Committee on Managing Potential Conflicts of Interest in Research, in recognition of the connection between the two studies.
  6. Recommend appropriate changes, if any, to MIT’s policies, procedures or practices to enhance, simplify and accelerate technology transfer and to enable the formation of beneficial, strategic partnerships with industry while preserving MIT’s fundamental values and principles.
  7. The Committee will produce a report that lays out its recommendations within a year.