What Every Researcher Needs to Know About Commercialization
What Every Researcher Needs to Know
Phyl Speser, J.D. Ph.D.
Foresight Science & Technology Incorporated
November 9, 2008
In this tutorial we are going to look at what commercialization is and why you should care about it. For
those who do care, we will go on to talk about how to accomplish it with the aid of your employer’s
Technology Transfer Office or Technology Transfer Officer. (We will use TTO as an abbreviation covering
both.) Although the emphasis in this tutorial is on technology, much of what we say will apply to
creative works (such as art, literature, designs) as well. Where creative works are created as part of
inventing or commercializing a technology we will explicitly discuss them.
The Tutorial has four parts. We begin with an overview of the basics. Next, we look at what you can do
to improve the likelihood your inventions will be commercialized. We then look at how deals are done.
We end with a few closing thoughts.
At the end of each major section of this tutorial, we include a brief discussion on working with your TTO.
Your Technology Transfer Office exists to help you protect and exploit your inventions on behalf of
yourself and your employer. The staff can guide you in documenting your invention. As the legal agent
for your employer, they have authority to negotiate and sign non‐disclosure agreements (NDAs) and do
deals. They will also monitor the deals to make sure payments are received from licenses and sales of
technology and distribute your share of the proceeds to you. Further, if you want to spin‐out a company
to exploit an invention, they will explain the process for doing so and help you do just that.
Note: nothing in this tutorial should be construed as legal advice. If you want legal advice, see your
1.1 What is Commercialization?
Technology Transfer occurs when a technology developed or used in one unit of an organization is
adopted by another unit of that organization or another organization. Commercialization occurs when
the party transferring the technology receives money in exchange for giving up some or all of their rights
to the technology. In other words, commercialization involves a sale. The buyer pays the seller for some
or all of the seller’s rights in the technology. Money changes hands.
If no‐one wants to pay for a technology, it cannot be commercialized. It still can be great science or
great engineering. It still can be incredibly socially important. But by definition, it is not commercialized.