David Schwartz, publisher of Technology Transfer Tactics (TTT), has taken IP Advocate to task again - the second time in the past half-year - for being, well, advocates... As a proponent of academic freedom and associated rights to freedom of expression, I appreciate his perspective. It was an October article in USA Today, Lucrative inventions pit scientists against universities, that triggered Mr. Schwartz to fire off Tech transfer takes yet another mass media flogging and post it to TTT's blog. The rancor Mr. Schwartz expressed in this latest posting compels me to respond on behalf of IP Advocate, our editors, writers and researchers as a counter-point to his outlook.
The first article back in May was to inform TTT's readership that the establishment of IPAO, a "website aimed at inventors gets chilly response from TTOs". Brrr. Academic researchers may also feel a bit of that arctic wind at your site as well Mr. Schwartz. Most recently, Schwartz's applecart was upset by USA Today's coverage of Dr. Kaswan's tech transfer horror story.
First a comment on the context - the USA Today piece was not much of an indictment against technology transfer. It represents a flogging on the scale of fifty lashes with a wet noodle. IPAO founder Dr. Renee Kaswan had a few quotes in the article, as do several other commentators, but UGA itself was not lambasted, its corporate foil Allergan was not even mentioned, and technology transfer was certainly not thrashed. In his blog, Schwartz's citation of UGA "opinion" and his own pithy commentary are much more of a "flogging" to IPAO than tech transfer got from the newspaper.
You mention that Dr. Kaswan is hardly unbiased, yet the language you use to describe her and the work of IPAO "skewering university tech transfer under the guise of charitable advocacy" is based in a little bias of your own, is it not, sir? The underlying accusation of both of Schwartz's blogs is that IPAO is Dr. Renee Kaswan's personal mouthpiece to strike - unjustifiably - at the technology transfer professional.
As the executive director of IPAO, I wish to clarify that we employ writers, researchers, editors, designers and technical professionals. None of these people are Dr. Kaswan - until the last few weeks, in fact, Dr. Kaswan had never written anything for IP Advocate. I personally direct the editorial focus of the site, not Dr. Kaswan.
If you look at the sheer volume of information at IPAO, federal and state laws, voluminous case studies, links, reference materials, blogs, articles, expert opinions and more, you can easily gauge that a site of this magnitude was pulled together by a staff, not a person. IPAO features guest writers from the academic, pharmaceutical, technology transfer and business sectors who provide their expert opinion on a broad variety of topics related to university research and technology transfer.
I am proud of the work we have done in creating IPAO and our dedication to intellectual property advocacy has been recognized with numerous awards - I won't toot our horn here, though.
True enough, Dr. Kaswan does support the efforts of this organization as a philanthropic activity, but all of the writing, research and editorial personnel who contribute to IPAO do so at a greatly reduced rate because they are committed to the advocacy issue and want to see a change made. Perhaps Schwartz sees a gun aimed at himself and technology transfer for a reason. Doesn't the criminal always run when the police car turns down their block?
Mr. Schwartz reflects this season of giving thanks, saying:
Thankfully, I work in a specialized form of journalism that digs deeply into the field or "beat" I cover, and I focus my work on providing helpful, practical information for professionals, based on my best efforts to decipher their information needs in their jobs. I consider it the highest calling of a journalist, to serve ones readers and get to know their real-world challenges in order to deliver better, more useful articles.
I concur, Mr. Schwartz. The journalists and staffers who write and research for IPAO consider their work a high calling - this is not a provenance solely for you. IPAO provides "helpful, practical information for professionals". Our targeted professionals are of course university researchers and IPAO, too, strives to "decipher their information needs for their jobs". There is a large community of researchers and innovators that IPAO services and interacts with to "get to know their real-world challenges in order to deliver better, more useful articles."
I feel like Mr. Schwartz and I are kindred spirits - but a key difference is that I respect the right of TTT to provide information it feels is appropriate for its community, while Mr. Schwartz seems affronted that IPAO does the same for its community.
IPAO has interviewed a great number of faculty researchers, who have had a wide range of experiences with technology transfer offices and the professionals who staff them. They have not all been terrible - IPAO presents articles and blogs that applaud those TTOs who get it right. IPAO highlights those universities operating under best practices, whose policies and practices are not only commendable, but should be a part of national policy.
Unfortunately, there are some instances of commercialization and TT where intellectual property is mismanaged, invention disclosures are ignored, inventor rights are trampled and innovation is thwarted. What happened to Dr. Kaswan at the hands of technology transfer and university administration was shameful, so too was the ordeal student researcher Petr Táborský endured. PET/CT inventors David Townsend and Ron Nutt were put through the wringer by U Pitt and Galen Suppes is still in an uphill battle over the future of his research with the University of Missouri and its indifferent technology transfer office.
These are stories that need to be told. Mr. Schwartz sees the TT profession as largely thankless and seems to resent the coverage IPAO provides of the worst of technology transfer as gratuitous. But if the specter is never raised, how can we be sure that these issues won't proliferate? Well... we could create an in-depth website outfitted with tools to assist others who could (but hopefully won't) find themselves in a similar situation. Something like... www.IPAdvocate.org.
IPAO works to inform its community about the hazards that lie along the road from innovation to commercialization so that they can safeguard their work. Is it so threatening to TTT, or any other technology transfer organization, that IPAO wants to provide faculty researchers with information about the process, the policies and the politics that can surround these transactions?
Mr. Schwartz says that he is a "little guy on the media stage" - so too is IPAO as it nears its first anniversary. We are pleased to know that we are on the radar screen of TTT and wish to return the sentiment that they are certainly on ours. TTT focuses on technology transfer, commercialization, getting funds from here, there, anywhere. But very, very little at their site discusses the researcher. And without the researcher and their innovations, what would technology transfer professionals do? What would Mr. Schwartz himself do?
TTT may not like IPAO and may not care for our message, but we have a right to express it. Certainly the community of faculty scientists is not getting any "helpful, practical information" relevant to their jobs from TTT and IPAO is proud to fill the void left by tech transfer organizations who do not seem to value the researcher's role.
I grant you that Mr. Schwartz is impassioned about his viewpoint. "But damn it, they don't deserve to be publicly flogged for their tireless work to bring technological solutions to global problems and help critical research from their labs become useful to the public, rather than sitting in a researcher's beaker and lab notes."
Applause, Mr. Schwartz, applause. I had no idea that technology transfer professionals were mapping the human genome, creating DNA based vaccines and developing drought-resistant crops to ease the world's hunger pangs. "But damn it," I am simply stunned that you think a faculty scientist might cure cancer and leave the solution "sitting in a researcher's beaker and lab notes" rather than sharing the news.
Really, Mr. Schwartz? You just made the case for why IPAO is much-needed. Your disdain for and marginalization of researchers and their advocates (IPAO, et al) is apparent and appalling.
The last line the publisher leaves us with is "For another view of tech transfer and its impact, continue reading to the next item on the economic impact of university-industry partnerships." University-industry partnership. That's a two party system. What does the industry want from the university and what is the university trading on? Researchers have literally been left out of the equation. If the university didn't have the innovators, industry wouldn't even take their calls. We encourage TTT to focus less on teaching tech transfer professionals to be more corporate and instead encourage them to fulfill their true calling - acting as stewards of the intellectual property entrusted (not owed) to it by university researchers.
To reiterate Mr. Schwartz, we're heartened to know that you visit our site and keep an eye on the progress Dr. Kaswan is making toward her goal of righting the wrong done her by UGA and Allergan. I realize I've quoted you considerably in this rebuttal to the "mass media flogging" piece you penned, so to shake things up a little, I'll leave you with a gem from Jack Nicholson - "You can't handle the truth"
Footnote - TTT did go on to recognize that finally one newspaper got it right. The Cleveland Plain Dealer published an article that TTT found worthy. But David, you didn't have to go that far to find the praise you're seeking... check out IPAO's favorable profile of Caltech, Emory, University of Utah and many others at www.ipadvocate.org.