Landing a job in Technology Transfer

Landing a job in Technology Transfer can be a rewarding career with social impact 

When you choose the technology transfer career path, you become part of the innovation economy. Each day is spent helping advance innovative technologies that save lives and make the world a better place. 

What is Technology Transfer?

Technology Transfer (TT) professionals are the bridge between science and industry. They work with academic researchers, inventors, and innovators to help transfer new research discoveries from the laboratory to the public, whether via industry or a nonprofit. Technology Transfer is the first step in the process of developing new products and services that benefit society. 

If you’re interested in a career in technology transfer, there are a few things you should know. First, you should have a background in STEM: science, technology, engineering, or math. Whether it be a college degree or prior work experience, a STEM background will give you the fundamental knowledge you need to succeed in this profession. Second, you should have experience or an interest in the worlds of business and law. TT professionals operate at the intersection of science, business and law, using skills from each of these three fields to accomplish the goal of transferring discoveries from science to society.For a more detailed explanation on what is Technology Transfer and how it works, this article will provide you with more information: What is technology transfer?

If you have a science background and are eager to be part of helping new discoveries come to market, technology transfer might be a good fit for you.

Finally, these careers can be competitive. To increase your chances of landing a job, consider interning with a Technology Transfer Office (TTO). Most universities, research institutions, government labs, and some nonprofit organizations have TTOs. They work with inventors and patent attorneys to assess commercial potential, manage intellectual property and partner with outside companies to bring these new ideas to market.

Landing a job in Technology Transfer might put you in a dynamic office environment
A technology transfer office can vary from a lab setting, to a corporate office or it can resemble a start -up

Typical jobs and Salary in Technology Transfer

Leadership

  • Associate/Assistant Vice President of Technology Transfer
  • Director/Executive Director/Managing Director of Technology Transfer
  • Director of Commercialization
  • Director of Licensing
  • Director of Business Development
  • Director of New Ventures
  • Associate or Assistant Director (for the entire operation or for a business unit)

Technology Development

  • Licensing Manager/Associate or Assistant
  • Technology Manager/Associate or Assistant
  • Licensing and Patenting Manager Associate
  • Industry Sponsored Projects Manager/Associate or Assistant
  • New Ventures Manager, Associate or Assistant
  • Marketing Manager/Associate or Assistant

Intellectual Property Management

  • Patent Attorney
  • Patent Agent
  • Intellectual Property Assistant/Legal Assistant

Business, Finance, and Compliance

  • Business Manager/Assistant
  • Finance Manager/Assistant
  • Compliance Manager/Assistant
  • Database Manager/Assistant
  • Executive or Administrative Assistant

Of the 6,600 patents filed by universities in a one-year period, 6,300 were facilitated by a Technology Transfer Officer.

Reported by the Milken Institute

Salaries in the Technology Transfer Office

Salaries for positions in Technology Transfer are highly variable and depend on the position, your experience, education, region, and employer. Also critically important is your particular skill set. 

As of Sept. 26, 2022, ZipRecruiter lists the average annual pay for a Technology Transfer professional  in the United States ats $95,177 a year. 

Comparably.com states the average Manager, Technology Transfer in the U.S. makes $143,762. Manager, Technology Transfer makes the most in Dallas, TX at $143,762.

Below is an example wage range recently published by a leading medical research institution:

  • $55-65K for licensing assistant
  • $75-110K for licensing associate
  • $95-160K for assistant/associate director
  • $120-$200K+ for director/executive director

Salary negotiation is important because it sets the trajectory for your earning potential within your new organization.

Glen Gardner, President, Gardner Innovation Search Partners

Salary Surveys and Trends in Compensation

Whether you run the office, license technologies, or help launch new ventures (startups), it’s important to know the key trends and factors driving compensation for your career path. AUTM has done very comprehensive salary surveys in the past and they are available for purchase. The last AUTM 2017 Salary Survey gathered data from 172 research institutions on ten of the most common tech transfer positions.

The 2017 mean salary was $71,269, an almost 15 percent increase since 2014 ($62,014). The base salary at public institutions grew by 22 percent, compared with a 7 percent increase at private institutions. There was a 10 percent pay gap between the private and public institutions, with public institutions generally offering higher salaries. Research expenditures – the amount of money an institution dedicates to research activities – has replaced years of experience as having the most impact on salary in this position, with geographic region and number of direct reports having impact as well. 

Key Findings

  • The average bonus was $4,400.
  • Bonuses averaged $4,300 at private universities and $4,600 at public universities.
  • The range of bonuses was $1,000 to $6,500 (10th to 75th percentile) for all Licensing Associates.
  • Eastern region bonuses ranged from $850 to $2,700 (10th to 75th percentile).
  • Central region bonuses ranged from $1,000 to $8,400 (10th to 75th percentile).
  • The average bonus for males was $5,000; $3,900 for females.

More than 90 figures and tables in the AUTM Salary Survey break down the data by region, educational degree, gender, and office size for public and private institutions. The 2021 AUTM Salary Survey is in process and is slated for publication in 2023.Given the age of the AUTM survey and the effects of the pandemic on working back in the office, Gardner Innovation Search Partners created our Technology Transfer office salary survey. This is a great and up-to-date resource for you to learn more about TT salaries.

Gardner Innovation Search Partners Symbol

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Jobs descriptions in Technology Transfer

Below are job descriptions for some of the most common TTO positions. One is for a senior level position and another for an assistant level position with no supervisory responsibilities. This should give you a great idea of the range of duties and responsibilities within the field.

Director Technology Transfer Office

Position Description

The Director is the head of the technology transfer office. The position is responsible for directing and managing all technology transfer activities at the institution. This includes activities related to licensing, negotiations, finance, marketing, new venture (startup) formation, and corporate relationships such as industry-sponsored research agreements and clinical trial agreements. The Director sets and/or interprets policies pertaining to technology transfer activities; manages the licensing, business development, and administrative staff in the technology transfer office; communicates with or advises the institution’s senior administration officials, including but not limited to general counsel, governing board(s), deans, and department chairs; and, serves on or leads applicable committees such as the patent committee and conflict of interest in research committee. 

Activities performed in the technology transfer office managed by the Director include approving licensing terms, guiding complex negotiations, signing licenses or other technology transfer agreements; setting standards for assessment of protectability and commercial potential of new invention disclosures; obtaining and managing relationships with outside patent counsel; interfacing with general counsel; pursuing expanded relationships with the corporate sector; working with entrepreneurs and venture capital to launch new companies based on academic innovations; managing the technology transfer office budgets; and facilitating relationships among faculty, industry, research sponsors, patent counsel, and university administrators. Depending on the organizational structure of a particular organization, the technology transfer office may be overseen by either a single Director or several.

  • Other possible titles: Executive Director, Managing Director, Associate/Assistant Vice President or Associate/Assistant Vice Chancellor
  • Possible degrees: Ph.D., J.D., M.B.A., M.S., B.S., B.A.
  • Typical years of experience: 5-30
  • Signatory authority: Some or all
  • Reports to: Vice President of Research, Provost or Associate Provost or, in the event that a Vice President or Associate Provost holds this position, directly to a Provost or the President of the institution
  • Supervisory responsibilities: Oversees entire office

Director Salary & Bonus Range

The average salary range for a director is $172,520 – $250,000.  According to AUTM, the average bonus was $23,000.

The Licensing Assistant 

Position Description

The Licensing Assistant does not typically draft or negotiate license agreements or other types of agreements but assists in the licensing process. This assistance may be in the pre-transaction phase by evaluating the commercial potential of inventions; performing market research or web-based patent searches; identifying potential licensees and preparing non confidential, technical information for marketing purposes. Assistance may also be in the post-transaction phase by supervising licensee compliance with both financial and nonfinancial contractual terms of the license. This position may focus on reviewing and negotiating incoming and outgoing material transfer agreements and/or non-disclosure agreements.

  • Other possible titles: License Manager or Licensing Manager
  • Possible degrees: Ph.D., J.D., M.B.A., M.S., B.S., B.A. Assoc.
  • Typical years of experience: 0-4
  • Signatory authority: Typically none
  • Reports to: Licensing Associate or to the Assistant/Associate Director, or in the absence of an Assistant/Associate Director, to the Director
  • Supervisory responsibilities: Typically none

Key Trends and Factors in Compensation (U.S. Only)

The 2017 mean salary was $71,269, an almost 15 percent increase since 2014 ($62,014). The base salary at public institutions grew 22 percent, compared with a 7 percent increase at private institutions. There was a 10 percent pay gap between the private and public sectors (favoring the public sector). Research expenditures replaced years of experience as having the most impact on salary in this position.

Key Findings

  • The average bonus was $4,400.
  • Bonuses averaged $4,300 at private universities and $4,600 at public universities.
  • The range of bonuses was $1,000 to $6,500 (10th to 75th percentile) for all Licensing Assistants.
  • Eastern region bonuses ranged from $850 to $2,700 (10th to 75th percentile).
  • Central region bonuses ranged from $1,000 to $8,400 (10th to 75th percentile).
  • The average bonus for males was $5,000; $3,900 for females.

5 essential skills needed for a technology transfer career

1. Build relationships to establish industry-academia partnerships

The main duty of a technology transfer professional is to bridge the gap between academia and industry. This entails working directly with both academic and industry experts to discover a solution that meets both their demands. Having a basic understanding of both industry and the academic research enterprise is crucial.

One of the most important abilities you’ll need is relationship-building. No matter who you speak with, be it a professor or an industry expert, you must be able to develop positive connections with them. You’ll also need to go one step further and help your contacts form relationships with each other. It will be part of your job to create relationships between businesses and academic researchers. To develop these connections, you’ll need to have a number of abilities, including emotional intelligence and strong skills in communication and conflict resolution.

2.  Assess commercial potential by strategic planning

Not every invention will result in a successful commercial product. You must understand the varying expectations of academic researchers and industry representatives to be effective in technology transfer. An invention may be highly valued research, but it may not have near-term commercial potential. As a TT professional, you will be responsible for determining whether or not certain inventions have the potential to be licensed to industry or qualify to be the foundation for a startup company.

As the interface between academics and industry, you’ll need to be creative and critical when examining new technologies. When determining if a discovery is economically viable, the technology transfer professional would consider the following:

  • Is the invention at a stage for which transfer to industry is appropriate, or does it need continued proof of concept research?
  • Is the patent position strong and defensible?
  • Are there enough  resources, including time and funding, to advance both the technology and the patent?
  • What is the best market or application for the technology?
  • Does the potential for industry profit make the invention attractive?
  • Is it the right time to pursue this venture?

Competitive analysis is required to determine the value or benefit of an invention over existing technology in the same sector. This will allow you to calculate the commercial potential prior to licensing it to prospective licensees. These queries must be asked as soon as possible during the transfer process, ideally before a patent application is filed.

Students Working In Agricultural Lab
Universities are responsible for a large amount of patents filed in the US. The majority of these patents are filed by Technology Transfer Offices.

3. The ability to create compelling marketing and communication materials to help bring new technologies to market

The goal of a Technology Transfer Professional is to ensure that the value of a new technology is communicated to external constituents. This is essential for finding viable licensees, industry partners, or entrepreneurs who will commercialize the invention. In order to be successful in technology transfer, you must have a high level of technical and commercial understanding. You must be able to evaluate the technological significance of an invention and communicate its technical and commercial potential to prospective licensees.

Being efficient in both written and spoken communication is another crucial talent for a Technology Transfer Professional. To develop promotional materials for the university’s innovations, you’ll need to have written communication abilities. You must also possess oral communication skills in order to present inventions to potential licensees, and the perseverance necessary to pursue potential business partners. You’ll need to communicate effectively with a wide range of people, including intellectual property attorneys, industry professionals, entrepreneurs, and investors.

It is critical to communicate and advertise scientific breakthroughs to those outside of the academic research environment in order for a technology transfer project to be successful. To be effective in this position, you must learn business skills that include commercial insight into applicable markets, an understanding of how a discovery may benefit society, and, most importantly, the ability to make a compelling business case for licensing to industry or launch of a new startup. By keeping up with the latest business and licensing trends, you can improve your corporate and commercial savvy.

4. Knowledge of patent law and licensing agreements

Unless you have a legal background, this is an area you will learn on the job. Managing the patent process and licensing discoveries are integral to advancing in technology transfer. Offices routinely send new hires to specialized training courses offered by AUTM, and sometimes LES (Licensing Executives Society) to assure they are properly trained in this area. 

To move up in this career, you must become competent in intellectual property management, including basic knowledge of intellectual property law, which includes patents, trademarks, and copyrights. You will also need to learn how to conduct patent searches to look for “prior art,” which is the legal term for public knowledge in both public research and patents that may make the technology unpatentable.

The licensing of an invention is the main focus of most TTOs. Understanding how to read and interpret a license agreement is one of the most important requirements of the job. Is also necessary to gain understanding of the legal and regulatory environment, including an understanding of key legal cases and a basic grasp of government regulations which will impact the development of the technologies you manage. 

Finally, you will need to understand patent and licensing strategies. Building a successful career in this field requires the knowledge, vision, and creativity necessary to think strategically.

5. An entrepreneurial mindset can lead to new startups

Entrepreneurial thinking is an important part of a career in technology transfer. You’ll always be on the lookout for new ways to advance the development of the discoveries you manage. To do this, you must have a working knowledge of both academic and commercial research, particularly in the area of technology R&D. It is necessary to understand the invention’s phase of development and the technical challenges that must be overcome in order to get a product to market. How many years will it take? How much funding will be required? Understanding regulatory hurdles is also important. Does the technology require government approval for use by consumers? And, you need to be able to determine the correct pathway. Is the technology sufficiently advanced to license directly to industry or is it better suited to be the foundation of a research-based startup company?

The launch of university startups is an important contributor to the economic vitality of a community. Most major universities, and even some smaller ones, have startup incubators or accelerators. In some cases, universities make funding available for the launch of new companies and some even have set up venture capital funds in collaboration with investors and industry to foster the formation of spin-offs.

Technology Transfer Professionals are an important part of the startup formation process. Oftentimes, those who work in technology transfer are the first to identify startup potential. This aspect of the job requires understanding of the principles of entrepreneurship and the ability to think like an entrepreneur. Depending on the institution, a technology transfer professional may be responsible for helping develop a business plan, assist with or provide entrepreneurship training to researcher staff and students, arrange for assistance to procure small business innovation research grants, help find executive management talent, and talk with angel and venture investors.

Creating a spin-off firm can be more time-consuming than licensing an agreement to an existing company, both for the TTO and for the inventor, since the development pathway often takes many years to reach first commercial sale. But it can be incredibly rewarding, especially in terms of the jobs created and economic activity generated in your community. 

To be a good candidate for a technical transfer role takes work. You need to develop “hard skills”, as listed above, but also your “soft skills”. Here’s an article on technology transfer soft skills that may help you do just that: 

Conclusion

Landing a job in Technology Transfer takes diligence, training and experience. A career in technology transfer is one of the most gratifying you can have. Every day, you get to work with state-of-the-art technologies that eventually become breakthrough drugs or market-leading products and there are strong opportunities for career advancement. As with most professions, you should have a proclivity for hard work, excellent interpersonal communication skills, and the ability to operate in a fast-paced environment. 

To work in the field of technology transfer, you should ideally have a degree in a STEM field, with an advanced degree in science, business or law preferred. Exposure to or understanding of the business side of research and development provides an added advantage.

If you want to work in this profession, many employers prefer candidates with some experience, which you can get through internships. There are great internship programs with universities and  the U.S. government. Check your local universities for more information, or search online for an internship with the NIH or NSF. You should also become familiar with general intellectual property contract principles and the intellectual property law process while you’re still completing your education. Experience or coursework in entrepreneurship or product development can round out your qualifications. Think on your answers for possible questions that may come up in interviews. (6 Key Job Interview Questions for the tech Transfer Industry

Above all, you must have a love of learning and the ability to think creatively. Engaging in technology transfer requires daily enthusiasm for learning about new advances in science and the ability to envision business application that can lead to the creation of new products and services. The best part of the profession is knowing each day that you are doing your part to advance new technologies to improve people’s lives.


Technology Transfer Careers FAQs