Technology transfer process gives life to new ideas developed at OSU
Friday, September 17, 2021
Media Contact: Harrison Hill | Research Communications Specialist | 405-744-5827 | harrison.c.hill@Okstate.edu
What is technology transfer?
Central to the land-grant mission of Oklahoma State University is providing knowledge and resources that improve lives. Technology transfer is one way OSU accomplishes that.
“Tech transfer is the interface between academics and industry to advance new ideas to life-changing products and services,” said Zach Miles, senior associate vice president for OSU Technology and Economic Development. “And then the second part of it is utilizing the resources we have on campus and making those available to industry to generate mutually beneficial research and development collaborations and allow those to spur economic development and diversification within the state.”
When you think of the great ideas that can happen at a high-level research university, technology transfer means being able to see them to fruition into something that betters consumers’ lives, Miles said.
“Tech transfer is a push-and-pull mechanism to commercialize new ideas,” he said. “The impacts that are being felt are broader than that, though: students having real-world experiences; economies are diversified; revenue is generated for the university to increase its infrastructure and research capabilities; or mutually beneficial collaborations are formed with Industry that advance each entity’s goals and missions.”
Where do the ideas that end up as startups or new technologies originate?
especially since OSU has a broad approach to technology transfer — an approach focused on adding value instead of a pure transaction model.
“If you’re a researcher and you have a great idea, that ‘aha’ moment, you disclose to the office through an invention disclosure form,” Miles said. “That form provides details to us to be able to make some decisions on whether we can or should protect the idea — usually via a patent, trade secret, copyright or another type of intellectual property protection — and then we either engage with existing companies that license the technology or we work with interested parties to form a startup company and provide them with support to ensure they are foundationally sound to advance the technology to an actual product or service.”
Those researchers and their ideas are not alone along the way.
“We engage students in the process, and we work closely with the different colleges,” Miles said. “If the students get involved, they can develop business plans or work up a prototype, or maybe they’re involved in some of the research activities, we can engage them through the process, and it provides them with real-world educational opportunities — applying their academic learning to an actual real-life situation.
“And then we really try to bring in other groups and organizations: mentors, subject matter experts, others within the ecosystem that can help either move that technology along or provide guidance, support or direction to a researcher or student. We are working hard to establish different programs and processes to engage with the greater community to advance these life-changing ideas or attract company engagement, and we are excited to introduce these to the community.”
Technology transfer is important to more than just OSU researchers, though.
“We try to get as many players as we possibly can have at the table,” Miles said. “The old adage of ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is also true with technologies; it takes expertise, money, champions, contacts, resources and connections. Interested companies or individuals help us determine the commercial viability of a given idea, or they could introduce us to companies that may be interested in licensing our ideas, sponsoring research, utilizing facilities on campus, engaging with students or providing mentorship or executive expertise to a researcher or startup company to provide guidance along the commercialization path.
“We try to create a virtuous cycle — a researcher has a good idea, we work on that to try to get it to a company, and then that company turns around and provides some additional research dollars in the university. There are many other value-add engagement points in that example, but we believe strong relationships between the university and the greater industry community will have significant impacts on the outcomes of each of those entities.”
How do companies find out about technologies at OSU?
“We conduct active and passive marketing,” Miles said. “So, for any given technology,
we seek out companies that may be interested in the technology. We then provide those
companies with materials not only on the technology but about resources on campus
that may align with the company’s product or service offering, such as researchers
conducting research in that field, facilities on campus that may be available for
use by the company, or helping to direct to other services on campus that may be of
benefit, like career services.”
For companies looking at what OSU offers, the list is long. It could be technology for licensing or students with expertise in their area, or researchers in an area that they could tap into and even core facilities that they could access and utilize equipment they didn’t know that OSU had.
Marketing and promoting OSU technologies extends past corporations.
“We post the technologies online mainly to attract companies to license technologies or engage in research and development collaborations, but we also develop materials to send to state or federal agencies to make them aware of the vast research and economic development activities at OSU. For example, we work with the state to attract companies looking to relocate or expand into the area.
These companies normally have questions about the workforce, research and development facilities, and collaboration opportunities. OSU can present itself in all of these categories and is an important piece of the overall attraction to the state,” Miles said.
How does OSU licensing and developing technology help Oklahomans?
Most new innovations have found a start, in one way or another, at a university.
“The seatbelt, the internet, the periodic table, rocket fuel, chemotherapy drugs, flu shots, Gatorade, a CAT scan, solar power, ultrasounds, insulin and on and on all came from universities,” Miles said. “Hundreds upon hundreds of technologies. And to a certain extent, most of the novel innovations that take place may have had or probably had some type of university engaged in its creation and/or development.”
Broadly, technology transfer as a whole contributes significantly to the overall gross domestic product by creating jobs, starting companies and generating revenue. The reports from AUTM show how this industry has affected the entire country, and Oklahoma State University is looking to become an even larger component of these efforts.
OSU, like many other universities, has a broad range of research and development activities.
“This broad research and development scope means technologies are generated that can be vastly different from one another. From new autonomous vehicles to modified seeds, these technologies create a robust and diversified economy.”
A few of OSU’s technologies may have already crossed your path, Miles said.
“The bread you’ve eaten may have been made with a wheat variety that we’ve come up with,” Miles said. “Or Bermuda grasses that are in your yard, or that you play golf on, may have crossed paths with Oklahoma State University.”
though, from UAVs to medicine, tech transfer encompasses the whole university.
“We’re currently working on new technologies that range from quick virus diagnostic detection devices to plastic cleanup and targeted cancer therapies,” Miles said.
Photos By: Todd Johnson, Gary Lawson and Phil Shockley
Story By: Harrison Hill | harrison.c.hill@Okstate.edu