Tillman Gerngross’ Plan to Revamp Tech Transfer at Dartmouth
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retain more ownership and control of the direction of his inventions. So what Gerngross wants to do is hand the inventor (the student or faculty member) that type of power even if it’s a part of that student or professor’s funded work, rather than mandating that it’s given to the university, and then help the inventor identify the best way to nurture it.
This could be achieved in multiple ways, depending on the invention and the inventor’s personal, professional, or financial goals. But Gerngross outlined two scenarios for how that would work. In one scenario, a researcher at a Dartmouth lab—with no interest in owning or running a company—discovers something, and reports the findings to the office. The experts there could look at the idea and make a “purely financial” decision and determine that it has a good chance of attracting interest and could make money, for instance, as a next-generation diagnostic. It would then prosecute the patents, and if someone wants to buy the technology, hand a majority of the cash to the university, with the rest going to the inventor, according to Gerngross.
In a different scenario, an inventor could come to the office with an idea for something that could have a “broad impact” and is interested in developing a prototype and getting it out into the medical community. The office would help the inventor: set up a company and transfer all of the IP into it; get additional capital into the company so the inventor can do things that couldn’t be done in an academic lab; and bring in a team to help with the commercial aspects of a company build-out.
“Before you know it, the person has an infrastructure around him that allows him to do something that in the past would’ve been impossible,” Gerngross says.
He adds that the office plans to help with that funding by either acting as a liaison with the venture funds its officers know in the relevant space, or gauging the interest of the Angeli Parvi, an angel fund set up by Dartmouth alumni.
“If [we can help] a dozen or half a dozen of them build successful companies, that’s success for us,” he says.
Even so, the idea is in its early stages. Gerngross explains that despite the creation of the new office, all of Dartmouth’s old policies regarding tech transfer are still in place, and there are “rigorous processes” that have to be established before the office can function in the way that he wants it to. Appropriate committees have to come together, deliberate, and evaluate the pros and cons before the new policy Gerngross is advocating can become a reality. And he’s met some resistance so far. Some academics, for instance, aren’t concerned that the tech transfer office is losing money, and are content with having the patents on their resumes, he says. But Gerngross believes there’ll be “significant reform” at Dartmouth in a year’s time one way or another.