UCSD Marks an Innovation Milestone: Control Over Tech Transfer

San Diego’s place as a hub for innovation in biotechnology, chip design, telecommunications, and other industries was made possible by a change that went mostly unnoticed in early 1994, UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said Tuesday night at a campus event.

That was the year a University of California ad hoc advisory committee recommended a reorganization of the UC system’s centralized process for technology licensing and commercialization. A final report issued that March concluded that the process for patenting and licensing new technologies should instead be distributed—and faculty-centered, inventor-centered, and campus/laboratory-centered.

By that fall, UC San Diego had established its own technology transfer office, gaining control from the UC office of the president over the research breakthroughs and inventions coming out of its own laboratories.

And that has made all the difference, Khosla said at a gathering that marked “20 years of innovation and impact” by the UC San Diego Technology Transfer Office. Controlling the process and working to make technology licensing easier has enabled UC San Diego to serve as a driving force in the formation of local technology-based companies, he said.

In a great blossoming over the past 20 years, technology licensed by the school has led directly to the creation of 204 companies in San Diego, and more than 3,600 U.S. patent applications—with 1,090 U.S. patents issued.

These days the San Diego campus is spinning out between 12 and 17 startups a year, according to Bill Decker, an associate director of the UC San Diego Technology Transfer Office.

In addition, Khosla said UC San Diego now ranks among the top five U.S. universities that are spending the most on R&D, with more than $1 billion a year coming from a host of federal, state, industry, nonprofit, and institutional sources. “San Diego would not be what it is now without UC San Diego,” Khosla said. “We did not become great by accident.”

In a short talk, Irwin Jacobs, a former UC San Diego professor of computer science and electrical engineering, recalled the beginnings of Linkabit and Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) in San Diego. San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer, who also spoke at the event, hailed UC San Diego for creating a platform for innovation, saying, “I love talking about our innovation economy. I’ve done it here, and all over the country.”

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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