Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Public Feud over University of Minnesota's

Tech Tranfer Office

Produces Silver Lining

Tech Transfer Blog Cites Periodic Table

In his blog The Periodic Table, William Gleason, PhD, associate professor in the departments of medicinal chemistry [not true...] and laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Minnesota, applauds Tim Mulcahy, PhD, the university’s vice president of research, for firing back at Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-St. Paul), who chairs the Bioscience and Workforce Development Committee in the state’s House of Representatives.

Mahoney recently told MedCity News that he will propose a bill to privatize the school’s tech transfer operation or recommend hiring a university president to “shake up” the office unless the university adopts a more aggressive approach to tech transfer. They’re screening companies to death,” Mahoney said, referring to the TTO’s strategy of being more selective in supporting only high-potential innovations.

“Here’s what we can propose,” Mulcahy replied in a follow-up interview with MedCity News. “We will make any of those technologies and potential companies that we pass on immediately available for the state to invest in. They can put some skin in the game in proportion to their tolerance of risk. That way, we don’t lose anything. Either we fund them, or they fund them.”

“This discussion is a great start,” Gleason writes on his blog. “We need an open dialogue between the members of the business community and the higher-ups at the U. What Dr. Mulcahy says is very encouraging.”

Columnist Thomas Lee then seconded Gleason’s response on his blog at MedCity News. “Can’t we just all get along?” he asked, noting that Mulcahy and Mahoney have been allies on angel investment tax credits, the creation of the Minnesota Science & Technology Authority, and the need for Minnesota to more fully convert its research assets into real technologies.

“Normally, you call someone out when things aren’t going so well,” he wrote. “Given Minnesota’s enormous progress on economic development issues, Mahoney’s threat to privatize the school’s Office for Technology Commercialization is akin to a manager firing his team after they just made the playoffs.”

Lee agreed that “the dispute itself reflects real progress. That two fairly important guys would openly argue about something as arcane as technology transfer shows how far we’ve come. Let’s face it folks, until recently, very few people really cared about issues like tech transfer.” Which is why it’s healthy to drag the debate into the public glare of the news media, he added.

“We need to openly butt heads
— if anything to ensure we’re on the same page, that we set high but reasonable goals for our efforts. So while Tim and Tim probably won’t send each other Christmas cards, this year, we can thank them for saying what needs to be said.”


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