University Technology Transfer: Don’t Overlook-Underestimate Intangible Assets

Michael D. Moberly    August 31, 2009

Most, if not all, university research, whether basic or applied, produces strategically valuable intangible assets that are frequently equal to the intellectual property that the institutions’ scientists, administrators, and technology transfer teams initially focus. (For a comprehensive list of intangible assets see  

In far too many instances though, intangible assets are overlooked, dismissed, or overshadowed by the time honored practice, within higher ed technology transfer, of pursuing conventional intellectual property dominated paths/strategies, i.e., patent applications, provisionals, licensing, etc.

Today’s road to successful technology transfer however, is increasingly lengthy, costly, and risky.  Respecting the economic fact that 65+% of most institutions’ value and foundations for future growth evolve directly from intangible assets, its now prudent to factor-include, in any technology transfer process, intangible assets!  Why?, because in most instances, intangible assets underly (accompany, are embedded in, become valuable by-products of) scientific innovation.  Thus, to consider intangible assets as secondary or subordinate after-thoughts to innovation, technology transfer, or ambitiously vertical strategies of filing patent applications, routinely leaves (a.) opportunity, and (b.) value on the table!

In addition, conceiving university research and technology transfer solely through conventional IP (patent only) lens tends to push out administrative time and inclination to genuinely explore options to exploit and extract value from the innovation.  This includes identifying, assessing, and valuing the often times equally useful – valuable intangible assets that routinely surround most innovation.  When intangible assets are overlooked or not properly factored in the technology transfer process their supportive and contributory value and even possibly defensive role for enhancing and sustaining the innovation and IP will likely be irrevocably lost.  Increasingly, this translates as other domestic, global competitors capturing and exploiting those assets for their benefit and profit.

There are multiple other benefits that can accrue to university technology transfer teams when they engage intangible assets and respectfully move away from the somewhat minimizing view of treating intangibles as un-accountable, un-commercializable, and un-monetizable discards that can’t – should’n’t be integrated into an institutions’ strategic technology transfer plan.

Yet, in this irreversible knowledge-based economy, wherein 65+% of an institution’s value, potential sources of revenue, sustainability, and foundations for future growth lie in intangible assets, disregarding and overlooking their contributory-supportive value and potentially defensive role is not likely to become an administrative practice that legitimately advances technology transfer options in the higher ed arena.





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