The Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) recently released their Highlights of the latest Annual Licensing Survey for fiscal year 2012 (which ended June 30, 2012 for Vanderbilt) which included aggregated totals of many of the metrics tracked by all tech transfer offices in the U.S., and compared those metrics to the previous fiscal year on an aggregated basis. In general, the numbers were positive, showing that virtually everything increased from FY11, an indication that licensing remains strong in the U.S., and that universities continue to be committed to technology transfer and commercialization activities.
Each year, the release of the AUTM Survey triggers efforts to assess our office’s performance in comparison to national trends in academic technology commercialization. We are pleased with progress we are seeing through our own internal channels, particularly in light of the many recent process improvement efforts we have implemented, and wanted to highlight a couple of metrics that jump out of the data.
The first is the number of “deals” that we complete, which includes both our license and option agreements. Nationally there was an increase of 5.3% in the total number of deals reported to AUTM. While this is a respectable number, over the same period our deals increased from 48 in FY11 to 62 in FY12 – and increase of 29.2%. This positive trend continued into the now-completed FY13 as well, with a total of 82 deals executed for another 32% increase over a strong FY12. The number of deals is representative of our success in moving Vanderbilt technology out of the lab and into the marketplace. Not all of these deals will pan out, and not all are of the type that will generate long term royalty revenue, but the more deals executed, the greater the potential benefit to the public from the fruits of our research efforts.
Another metric that we track closely is a bit less obvious to fully appreciate – the amount and rate of patent cost reimbursements. These are the amounts that we receive that go towards paying back Vanderbilt for its investment in protecting intellectual property, paid by the companies that license our technologies. As a nation, we spent $345 million in legal expenditures in FY12 and received $158 million in reimbursements from licensees, for a total “reimbursal rate” of 45.8%. Vanderbilt’s performance was not as good – only $616,000 was reimbursed while just over $3 million was spent on patenting in that year for a rate of 20.2%. However, this is far from a perfect measure of reimbursements, as the amounts received were reimbursements from investments made in previous years, and the current year expenditures may still be reimbursed in the future. Averaging across the nearly 200 institutions that responded to the survey will provide a reasonably good picture in the aggregate, but for an individual institution this number may vary wildly from year to year. Case in point, Vanderbilt made significant investments in some key patent portfolios throughout FY12, which drove up our expenditures for that year. However, the vast majority of those investments paid off in license agreements the following year. Our reimbursed legal expenditures for FY13 were a record $2.3 million, with our total legal expenditures at $3.2 million. Taking FY12 and FY13 together, our “reimbursal rate” is significantly higher at 47%, which reflects our recent efforts to get a much higher percentage of our costs reimbursed by industry.
These are only two of many metrics highlighted in the AUTM Survey report, as well as countless other metrics that can be derived from the raw data (also available through the data mining tool STATT on the AUTM website). Additionally, we are seeing increases in the number of invention disclosures, material transfer and sponsored research agreements, and new ventures powered by Vanderbilt technologies. The growth we are seeing across the board in our key performance metrics validates the numerous process improvement and outreach initiatives implemented over the past couple of years that were designed to help us push even more Vanderbilt technologies to the marketplace. The metrics give strong indication that we are on the right track. And it reminds us of the power of research, innovation and collaboration.