Sunday, July 12, 2009

Transformers pt 3

Part 1.
Part 2.

In December of 2005, the Regents promoted Guy Diedrich to the position of Vice Chancellor for Technology Commercialization, a position that had not existed before. Hitting the ground running, Diedrich prepared a revision of the System policy on intellectual property, to be considered at the January 2006 meeting of the Board of Regents. This does not appear on the minutes of that meeting (pdf)... what happened can be reconstructed from materials posted by the CPI, especially for their March 2006 meeting.

Consistent with the long-standing TAMUS practices on Shared Governance*, Diedrich prepared the new policy without input from the faculty. It would have sailed through, if not for another troublesome TAMU President working "FOR the faculty not WITH the faculty". Dean of Science Joe Newton wrote in March 2006:
..While the REC [Research Environment Council - ed.] recognizes and appreciates the timely intervention of President Gates to remove this item from the January Board of Regents meeting, there must now be significant input from the faculty during the reworking of the document...
Diedrich's changes were based on the ideas he explained to the Higher Education Subcommittee of the Texas Senate, as described in the previous post in this series. He just wanted the faculty to let the Office of Technology licensing sign off before they squandered commercialization opportunities by publishing their work. The faculty reaction is captured in a memo from Tom Vogel (Chair of Academic Affairs Committee of the Faculty Senate):
Summary of discussion on the proposed system policy on intellectual property management and commercialization: The consensus of the AAC was that we cannot support the proposal. Here are some points which we found troubling:
  1. The proposal would introduce a potential for prior restraint of publication of research which describes a patentable innovation. This seems unworkable: there is an enormous amount of research being done at our university, much of which could be construed as possibly describing a patentable innovation. It seems unlikely that the OTC could evaluate all of this research in a timely manner.
  2. The possibility of prior restraint of publication is abhorrent to the academic culture. The fact that this power would be concentrated in the hands of a single person is extremely troubling.
  3. It provides for roles of TAMUS in equity ownership, management, and operation of for-profit enterprises which we believe to be dangerous to the University's interests.
  4. The decision-making authority concerning commercialization of research would be distanced from the individual researcher. This should remain at the university level, rather than adding another layer.
  5. It places unrealistic expectations upon the terms and conditions
    for license agreements concerning early-phase technology development.
  6. The significant bureaucratic hurdles imposed on commercializing research will hurt efforts to recruit top-flight researchers.
By that summer, much of the reporting requirement was stricken from the document that was eventually approved (pdf). During the kerfuffle over the intellectual property rules, the guidelines on tenure and promotion were changed to increase the emphasis on patents and commercialization. By the following year, Diedrich was bragging about how TAMU was able to grant tenure to a junior faculty member who hadn't published for a year.
The new policy is already paying dividends, according to Diedrich. While the university has not yet attempted to quantify the impact the effects of the new policy, Diedrich said that it has seen “quite a number of additional disclosures” that were a direct result of younger, tenure-track faculty disclosing their research for the first time.

In addition, the university is set to award tenure to a professor for the very first time based partially on using technology commercialization as a criterion for the decision.
Thus, Diedrich was able to overcome faculty resistance by distracting them on one front while moving forward on another. He enhanced researcher communication by getting the faculty to unite against his proposed changes to the intellectual property rules. Tech transfer offices elsewhere could learn from our master strategist.

*The Chancellor at the time was Bob McTeer. McKinney became Chancellor in Nov. 2006.

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