The fountain of innovation provided by modern day biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, universities, and research institutes is often protected and harnessed through intellectual property. By far the most common form of such intellectual property is a patent – a legal instrument providing its owner with the right to exclude others from practicing the subject invention. Such organizations often apply for and acquire a patent to provide a legal and viable means of protecting such technology, or to otherwise license the technology to prospective users and collaborators. Many are familiar with the role of patent agents and attorneys in assisting such organizations in obtaining patents to protect technology.
Some may not realize, however, that companies and universities alike are hiring technology managers at a growing rate, who are often charged with the responsibility of managing patent portfolios and converting patents and other forms of intellectual property into sources of revenue. Not surprisingly, technology managers for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies – and many universities – often have substantial education in the life sciences. In fact, many biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies prefer that technology managers have a doctorate in a related field.
Thus, for those pursuing a Ph.D. in the life sciences, as well as post-doctoral students and current Ph.Ds., technology management offers a rapidly growing and challenging alternative career path. Indeed, many find the day-to-day life as a technology manager to be extremely rewarding. Some have characterized the field as representing the convergence of law, business and science – a truly interdisciplinary career option. The general requirements for a career in technology management are not as rigid as they are for patent attorneys and agents. For example, technology managers are not required to have a law degree or be licensed to practice before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office – as they do not prepare and prosecute patent applications on behalf of third-parties.
What is typically required, however, is a strong technical background, which is obviously necessary to understand the value of the technologies and patents for which a manager may be responsible. In addition, because technology managers are often involved in contract negotiations, it is generally preferred that they have strong writing, negotiation and communication skills, as well as sound business judgment. The specific responsibilities accorded to technology managers vary among companies and universities. In general, these individuals are responsible for managing outside patent agents and attorneys, and serving as the liaison between such patent professionals and the inventor(s) who work within his/her company or university. In addition, many technology managers are responsible for measuring the potential value of an invention and determining whether to invest the necessary funds to have a patent application prepared and filed with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (and/or foreign patent offices).
Obviously, such analysis requires a thorough understanding of the relevant science and, furthermore, the potential markets and commercial uses for an invention. Technology management also entails – as you might expect – managing patent portfolios. This management function often includes trying to generate revenue from an organization’s portfolio of patents. That is, technology managers are often responsible for identifying licensing partners to ensure that issued patents are being used to the extent possible to generate revenue. After a suitable licensee is identified, technology managers play an integral role in negotiating the terms of the licensing agreement. In many cases, technology managers work closely with attorneys in this negotiation process. Similarly, technology managers are often involved in forming research collaborations with third parties. In fact, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies regularly engage scientists within university settings to conduct a wide variety of research and development projects.
The terms pursuant to which a university agrees to conduct a research project for a biotechnology or pharmaceutical company are often negotiated and handled through technology managers (both on the side of the university and biotechnology company). Thus, the negotiation skills of technology managers are called upon in these situations as well. The numerous terms and conditions that must be negotiated in such arrangements include budgets, rights to and ownership of intellectual property, rights to control patent preparation and prosecution for such intellectual property, rights to modify or terminate a research project, etc. Of course, technology managers who have participated in high-level university research, such as Ph.Ds., are often best suited to efficiently and effectively facilitate such arrangements. Thus, it is not surprising that corporate and university technology management offices tend to hire individuals having Ph.Ds. in the life sciences. There is no single method by which scientists begin working in the field of technology management.
In addition to a strong science education, many employers prefer technology management professionals who have several years of experience working in the relevant industry, and who have previously worked alongside patent agents and attorneys – perhaps in connection with their own research. Indeed, for many scientists, technology management is a field that they explore years into their careers, perhaps as a reprieve from the customary demands and pressures of traditional research. For newly minted Ph.Ds. who are interested in the field of technology management, there are avenues that may be pursued to gain access to this exciting field – even without years of industry experience. In particular, university technology management offices are generally more receptive to individuals wanting to work in technology management, without having years of industry experience, than corporate technology management offices.
Thus, for recent Ph.D. graduates or Postdocs who are interested in the field of technology management, universities may be the first place to look for employment. In many cases, university technology management offices will include a wide range of professionals (compared to their corporate counterparts), such as technology management personnel, patent agents and attorneys, grant administrators, and others. The exact structure and hierarchy of such individuals, both within a technology management office and the university itself, varies considerably among universities. For example, in some universities, technology management offices report to the general counsel’s office, whereas in other universities, technology management offices report to an executive office, e.g., the chancellor’s or president’s office. Corporate technology management offices are often affiliated with one or more larger departments within a corporation, including law departments, research and development departments, and/or business development departments.
Not surprisingly, regardless of its location within a corporate hierarchy, technology management professionals interface with representatives from all such departments, i.e., law, R&D, business development, etc. The exact titles that such technology management professionals are typically given varies among companies, but often include “intellectual property manager”, “licensing administrator”, “contracts manager”, “technology management officer”, and similar titles. Even in large corporations, the organizational structure of corporate technology management offices tends to be relatively flat, providing each of its members with a substantial amount of independence and responsibilities.
In many corporations, technology management offices may comprise only two tiers of management, such as staff technology managers and perhaps one or two supervisors. Thus, for those who gravitate towards fields having less bureaucracy, technology management may be a good option. While the above describes certain observations and trends within the field of technology management, you should appreciate that this field is relatively new, particularly within the university setting. Thus, it may be years before any level of regularity is achieved in the organization and composition of university technology management offices. What’s known, however, is that the field of technology management is growing at an impressive rate, and represents a rewarding and constantly evolving career path for individuals having a Ph.D. in the life sciences.