Amid a growing chorus of complaints from top researchers and business executives, UCLA officials are vowing to overhaul the university's much-maligned technology-transfer program through which research findings are developed into commercial products and services.
While several other universities around the country including Stanford, UC San Diego, Caltech and MIT have for years served as catalysts for their regions' technology industries and helped faculty members become rich, UCLA has contributed little to L.A.'s tech community.
"We have been hearing the same type of criticism from people in the industry and from faculty members," said Executive Vice Chancellor Rory Hume. "We've been told that the circumstances of the world are now such that UCLA should actively and energetically encourage linkages between the faculty and private enterprise."
Hume has been spearheading the university's efforts to reorganize the technology program for more than six months.
But one person who is unwilling to wait any longer is biotech mogul Alfred Mann, who two years ago announced his intention to donate $100 million to UCLA for a new biotech institute.
Mann, frustrated by the university's technology-transfer program, recently secured an agreement in which the biotech institute he plans to fund will have its own, independent technology-transfer program.
"Let's just say that my experiences with the university's technology-transfer program have not been very encouraging," said Mann. "Since the people at the institute will know their products and their markets better than anybody else, they should not rely on the university, and the institute will handle its own intellectual property and technology-transfer affairs."
Lack of leadership at UCLA's technology program has been a source of recurring complaints. The vice chancellor of research, Kumar Patel, who was in charge of the technology-transfer program, resigned his position late last year.
"They are looking for a new person to head the program," said Frank Wazzan, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. "This is part of a major overhaul of the technology-transfer program, which is underway now because of the recognition that we could be doing much better than we were."
UCLA officials say they are stepping up their outreach efforts to get more local business leaders involved in the technology-transfer process.
Wazzan acknowledged that the urgency to improve the school's technology-transfer reputation is related to the drawn-out negotiations over Alfred Mann's donation.
"I've personally been dissatisfied with the technology-transfer situation at UCLA for long time, but I never got involved because I felt it would be like banging my head against the wall," he said. "When the Mann donation came up, it became very important to get this resolved, particularly since it involved my school."
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.