Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Myth of Faculty Infallibility

By Keith McDowell

“Hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil” is an intriguing credo worthy of consideration in some instances, but also typically an excuse to avoid confronting the obvious truth in situational encounters. Consider, for example, the case for the infallibility of university faculty members; namely, the notion that faculty are always right. How does that aphorism  work with respect to the commercialization of technology? The answer, of course, depends on whom you ask.

By all accounts, the process of transforming an idea or research discovery into a viable commercial product or service is a complex one populated with numerous evaluation procedures and decision branches. Not to be too harsh on faculty, but the experience of most technology transfer and commercialization professionals is that faculty members as a general rule are not prepared to undergo such a journey and in some cases willfully subvert the process to their own disadvantage. Why would anyone behave in such a manner and what is the nature of that behavior and their ignorance?

In the interest of addressing these questions while hopefully avoiding some proverbial dime-store psychology, I’ll “speak some evil” and relate my own experience in dealing with faculty members and the process of technology commercialization. Here are some of the issues that I’ve experienced or seen.

·      Most faculty members don’t know or understand the process for moving an idea or discovery through the pipeline to commercialization, although this situation has been changing in recent years. Even worse, they fail to understand the technology commercialization jargon and confuse, for example, the meaning and differences between an idea, a discovery, an invention, or a commercial product. But believing themselves in the infallibility of faculty, they refuse to accept their ignorance and pretend otherwise, typically to the detriment of everyone involved.
·      Far too many faculty members think they know better than the professionals about how to commercialize their discovery.
·      As a general rule, the “slow step” in technology commercialization is not the office of technology commercialization but the faculty member. It’s one of those “see, hear, and speak no evil” moments.
·      Most faculty members don’t understand and often refuse to accept that the university owns the intellectual property resulting from an invention disclosure, often as a direct result of the Bayh-Dole Act combined with the contract between the university and the faculty member. To everyone’s credit, such contractual arrangements are now being more fully explained in an up-front manner to all the parties involved, especially given recent court actions. The game of IP walking out the back door continues, but is better understood and being addressed.
·      Faculty members refuse to invest the necessary sweat equity into getting the details properly done during the invention disclosure process. They just don’t believe the details are needed for a proper valuation by the university prior to patenting or choosing another branch in the decision tree. And it’s part of a knee-jerk culture primed to always fight against perceived administrivia.
·      Faculty members vastly overestimate the potential commercial value of their invention disclosure. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen estimates ranging into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The presumptive value of such estimates is their power to convince the university to pursue full patent protection and downstream commercialization.
·      Some faculty members enjoy invoking the publication conundrum; that is, the perceived conflict between the timing involved in the publication of research and the patenting process. While there are certainly issues to be considered, university technology transfer professionals fully understand them and the entire issue is easily and almost always well managed. This is one of those “much ado about nothing” concerns causing lots of angst and little else.
·      Most faculty members significantly underestimate the development process and don’t accept scale-up or manufacturing related concerns as issues. Although a downstream problem, it sometimes affects the early stages, especially the juncture where the university decides to pursue or not pursue an invention disclosure or return full rights to pursue to the faculty member.
·      Contrary to folklore and the conventional wisdom of pundits, universities often return the right to pursue an invention disclosure through the commercialization pipeline to the faculty member. And it’s done in a timely manner. Universities don’t sit on such invention disclosures. There are many reasons why universities don’t pursue invention disclosures including the lack of funding to pay for the patent process. No one gains from sitting on potential intellectual property and university administrators understand that proposition.
·      Many faculty members don’t appreciate and are confused about the variety of ways to obtain value from their invention disclosure as intellectual property, whether through monetization (“cash on the barrel head” to us old guys), royalties, or the differing kinds of stock options in a startup company as the most obvious examples. It’s a game of managing expectations and working with the faculty member to obtain an optimal strategy for all the participants.
·      Faculty members struggle with the issue of becoming personally and directly involved in technology commercialization. Such concerns include becoming an investor, a consultant, an entrepreneur, a research administrator in a startup company, and a host of other possible configurations. Sadly, many faculty members become sucker bait for fast-talking entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Every technology commercialization professional has their own collection of stories about such episodes, including me. Rescuing people from such foibles is part of the business.
·      Faculty members are sometimes confused about the choice between licensing to a startup company versus a mature business. Too often, they see gold at the end of the rainbow in the startup.

Proper valuation and proper decision-making at each stage in the process of technology commercialization is difficult and involves the interplay of people and all that that entails. When correctly done, effective and full communication to and with all parties is an essential factor. And for universities, that begins with a training program before the fact to prepare faculty members for what they will experience. Ignorance of the process must never be an excuse for someone to fall back on the myth of faculty infallibility as a reason to bully or to be truculent.

I’ve often been asked by faculty members the following question: so what do I get from playing the game and working with the university instead of taking my invention out the back door? My answer is simple. You get trained and experienced professionals who know what they are doing and who understand the consequences of all the actions taken. You get lawyers and contacts to entrepreneurs, venture capital, and mainstream industry. And it doesn’t cost you a penny other than the time involved to provide the essential details in your invention disclosure. Best of all, history proves that the financial remuneration that you ultimately receive from your idea and discovery will be maximized when you play the game the right way. While there are some outstanding exceptions that appear to disprove this rule, there are also the many failures that no one knows about aside from the insiders.

Faculty members are not infallible. Neither are technology commercialization professionals. But when both groups work together in common cause and a full understanding of each other, the potential for an innovation to succeed is limitless.

[Image copied from]

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Great American Pastime

By Keith McDowell

The death of Stan “the man” Musial this past weekend at the age of 92 evoked for many of us memories of a bygone era, the era of baseball as the great American pastime.

Baseball was always a part of my life as a young kid in the early 1950s, especially those many sessions of “pepper practice” with my father in the backyard of our home on the Old Brickyard Road in Trinity, North Carolina. Unfortunately, my fielding skills never did amount to anything more than the ordinary. Perhaps it had to do with the quality of the baseball glove that I possessed. It was one of those old-fashioned flat gloves with no webbing and nothing that resembled a pocket.

Dad truly loved the game of baseball in his youth, although golf has taken over in his later years. Indeed, one could even say that baseball provided him with his start in life and his lifelong career. 

The story begins in the mid-1930s when dad was the catcher for the High Point High School baseball team.  Upon graduation in 1937, there were no jobs to be had in the Great Depression and no money for dad to go to college. But there was baseball in the form of the Globe Parlor Furniture Company baseball team. In need of a new catcher following the loss of a Mr. Dorsett, dad was hired by the company as a furniture upholsterer, but principally as the new catcher for their team. According to league rules, players could not be paid for playing, so companies recruited their players and gave them jobs with the expectation that they would play, although each team was allowed to have two players who did not work for the company. Dad was one of the lucky ones who got the job and the right to play.

Company baseball teams were a source of great pride in the 1930s and the Globe Parlor team was no different. Founded in the late 1920s under the auspices of Mr. Charles Barrier, one of the owners of the furniture company, the team was a perennial winner in the Commercial League and later the Industrial League. Described by many as a tightwad, Charlie loved baseball, came to every game, and supported the team with a “blank check” in terms of equipment and uniforms.

Globe Parlor Baseball Team Circa 1937
Harding Atlas McDowell holds catchers mitt behind batboy

The home field for the Globe Parlor team was located at the now defunct Allen Jay High School, south of High Point on the Fairfield Road. Games were played every Saturday evening during the summer with an occasional cross-league game on Wednesday night. Typically about 500 people attended the games.

Dad especially remembers games played on a field located on South Main Street next to the old abattoir. The field was made of red clay with a creek in deep left field that made for trouble. Most of the fields in those days did not have a fence, so homeruns were basically caused by hitting the ball over someone’s head or into a creek.

The uniforms including the socks were made of wool and were very itchy and hot. As the catcher, dad sweated a lot in the summer under all the wool and catcher’s equipment. He remembers being covered in caked-on mud and dust following a game on the South Main Street field. Players cleaned up with a bath at the local YMCA that was not far away.

Umpires in those days called balls and strikes from behind the pitcher. That same umpire also called the plays at 2nd and 3rd base. Foul balls were a challenge since the fields were not marked with lime after the bases in the infield. Instead, a stake was placed in the deep outfield and used to figure out whether it was a foul ball. Lots of arguments resulted from those calls!

And lets not forget the practice of eating beans before a game, much to the disgust of the catcher and some silly shenanigans that occurred at the home plate.

Following his service in World War II, dad was again given a job by the Globe Parlor Furniture Company. The owners felt that they owed a job to the men who had fought for their country and previously worked for their company. Eventually, Globe Parlor was bought out by Burlington Industries and dad retired following the demise of that unit having spent his entire working career in the furniture business with Globe Parlor. Truly, baseball made a difference in the life of my father.

For me, baseball will always be about those lazy summer days as a teenager when my brother and I got up early and went to the city softball fields across the road from Brentwood Elementary School. It was a sure bet that enough boys would show up for a game to commence, no matter how hot the day was or the fact that no one had any water. Lacking proper equipment, the catcher stood near the backstop and caught a pitch on the first hop. No one called balls and strikes since the object was to hit the ball and play the game. Standing around in the heat was not part of the recipe.

Speaking of balls and bats, I’ll never forget those shiny hard baseballs that had turned greenish-brown from skipping through grass or their extra weight from being left outside in the rain. The bats were typically either large, fat, and much too long and heavy, or else short and pencil thin. The art of “choking up” was a much-needed skill.

I’ll never forget Mr. Aubrey Grimes, the city maintenance worker charged with dragging and liming the fields before the late afternoon and evening softball games. We were a constant nuisance for him since we “messed up” his fields in the morning with our games, but he was a good spirit about it.

Today, no one plays sandlot baseball any more. Baseball for kids has become all organized and homogenized, regulated and overcooked into a shadow of its former self and just another sport to fill in a slot on the daily calendar. Infield chatter is a lost art and shenanigans are forbidden.

And speaking of baseball stories, I’ll never forget the non-stop chatter from my uncle, Myron “Red” Hayworth – and yes, he was a red head. Red was a catcher for the Saint Louis Browns and played in the 1944 World Series. Red was an excellent catcher and managed pitchers quite well, but couldn’t hit very well batting .223 in the 1944 championship season.

But Red loved to tell his baseball stories to anyone who would listen, whether they wanted to listen or not. And he had some good ones. He also had a collection of home movies that he had taken in the late 1940s and early 1950s in baseball locker rooms and at ball games. And then there were all those signed baseballs, bats, and gloves that he owned. I’ve always wondered what happened to his collection. It was priceless.

And so we mourn the death of Stan Musial, a baseball legend and a truly great man. While his life and the game of baseball don’t particularly have much to do with innovation, entrepreneurship, or university research, they are still to be celebrated and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do so. Musial will be missed.

 [Note: Images of Red Hayworth were taken from a signed copy of the St. Louis Browns Fan Club book featuring Red Hayworth in the possession of Keith McDowell. For baseball aficionados, note also that Red’s older brother, Raymond Hayworth, caught for 15 years in the big leagues, mostly for the Detroit Tigers.]

Friday, January 18, 2013

Crossing the Line

By Keith McDowell

Confession is good for the soul – or so they say. I suppose it depends on who is doing the confessing, the nature of the sin involved, and whether redemption or forgiveness is required – the Harper Valley PTA excluded.  Remorse and contrition are also part of the show providing that special touch of humanity.

Lance Armstrong confessed. The culture of the cycling society in the 1990s and the naught years made him do it. Supposedly, it was how everyone “gamed the system” and leveled the playing field – the details being irrelevant except to the curious and the obsessed.

And obsessed we are as a society with sinners, saints, and our fallen heros. Nothing plays better on the screen of life than the drama of the confessional act followed by redemptive forgiveness – Oprah being the perfect foil. Scorners bask in the glow of “I told you so!” and righteous indignation while true believers shed a tear and embrace the sinner. It’s the perfect prescription for our next emotional fix.

But behind the role playing of the current set of actors and, yes, behind the crass manipulation of the public to achieve predetermined goals, there are real questions to be asked and answered about what is real and what is merely drama. And most pressing of all is the question of when do human beings “cross the line” and “cheat” on the established rules of a given game, even if those rules are antiquated and easily circumscribed? Is it a sin to do so or have we achieved a greater good by revealing a flawed system? Should we always follow the moral imperative to stay within the intent of the prescribed rules or is there an evolutionary imperative at play driving us to constantly reinvent the game, typically by “cheating” on the given rule set? How about if we only bend the rules?

Lest you think such ruminations are merely philosophical doggerel, consider the question of achieving the competitive edge through innovation and invention. Is that not a form of “cheating” on the established rule set?

I have a test for you. Which of the following innovations and inventions constitute cheating when used: swimsuits covered with nano-scales, golf balls embossed with the perfect dimple, aluminum bats engineered to drive the ball out of the ballpark, exo-body suits designed to expand performance, or the invention of Gatorade? What about “cheating” to build a better racecar or enhance the performance of yachts in the America’s Cup competition? And my favorite activity, animal breeding to achieve the perfect racehorse or the best show dog – no matter the consequences to the breed.

Gaming a rule-based system doesn’t have to be only about sports. Consider all the new instruments created to make money such as Roth IRAs or credit default swaps to protect derivatives. Does the financial collapse in 2009 mean that someone cheated?

And how about human and animal testing for medical research to improve the condition of humankind through new innovations and inventions? When does that research “cross the line” and become cheating? Do we really want our worse science fiction nightmare to occur with the release of nano-agents similar to those in the novel Prey by Michael Crichton?

When does pushing the outer envelope, thinking outside the box, being creative, or walking to the beat of a different drum – to name a few of the standard, but trite expressions – cross the line and become cheating? When does the saint become a sinner – or does such a bright line even exist?

Does it matter more to us when drug use or medical procedures are involved as opposed to new technologies or materials? Or does the venue, such as a sporting event versus the economy or public health, count in defining the bright line?

For me these questions revolve around the issue of what we value and how we operationalize that value system – the notions of absolute right and absolute wrong being too rigid. I favor transparency over secrecy in our actions as the best tool to protect the public good, but even that has its limits. Do we really want to reveal the secret formula for Coca-Cola?

The court of public opinion will ultimately decide the fate of Lance Armstrong and his legacy, but regardless of that outcome, his story reveals yet again the struggle we face as a civilization to improve the human condition. Should we bend the rules in our favor through innovation and invention and when does that activity cross the line and become cheating? It’s your call.

[Attached image copied from website How Close Should You Come to Crossing the Line?]

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Invasion of the Data Snatchers

By Keith McDowell

And so it begins! I’m speaking, of course, of season three – that’s Downton Abbey for those of you not keeping score. Thank God, Lady Mary and Matthew are finally married, although his dithering about accepting the Swire family fortune is, well, entertaining. And that’s the point.

Downton Abbey is an enormously successful television series brought to us by Masterpiece Classic as part of the Public Broadcasting Service. The story captures many aspects of life in the gilded age of early Twentieth Century England by reveling in the upstairs and downstairs intrigues of the landed gentry and their servants. The drama unfolds through excellent storytelling and marvelous acting while set in the rooms and on the grounds of the enchanting Highclere Castle. It’s escapist programming at its best. Even an old goat like me has brandished a tear or two at the drama and snickered at the punch lines from the incomparable Maggie Smith.

But Downton Abbey is more than just a well-spent Sunday evening. It’s a story that reminds us of the comedy and crassness, guts and glory, sorrow and shame, and vagary and vulgarity of one’s own family and ancestors. Who can forget the presence at family gatherings of old Uncle Nick who was deaf as a doornail and sat in the corner with his hand cupped around his ear watching the proceedings and pretending to hear everything? Our how about those stories from grandma describing the nameless uncle who, bless his heart, was a lecherous old fool and womanizer and who reputedly sired numerous bastard children? Oh, the scandal of it all!

Yet, people want to know. Despite the salacious details or the utter banality of someone’s existence, people care about the lives and history of their ancestors. Just ask the folks at, or the librarians who manage genealogy rooms at public libraries, or the clerks at county courthouses, or the archivists at state records repositories. The modern search for ancestral data has exploded in America and taken on a social dimension equal in many ways to that of social media. It’s as though an alien has attached itself to our bodies and turned us into a herd of data snatchers, eager to capture yet one more morsel or tidbit of family history.

And therein lies our story. When and how does the right to privacy trump the right to have access to public records – not to mention all those personal records posted online at or elsewhere, whether letters, Bible records, or pictures of people? And who should pay for the proper archiving of those records and the means of access to them? Genealogy data snatchers want to know!

If you think the right to privacy isn’t an issue, consider the recent brouhaha over a newspaper publishing the list of local gun owners based on a public government database. Or consider the following point: should a genealogist publish a complete family history including the names of living relatives? How does that impact identity theft?

Whether we like it or not, the Internet has brought civilization to a new era where a great deal of information can be accessed about each of us or our ancestors. From the point of view of a practicing genealogist like me, this is wonderful news. After spending nearly forty years trolling through old documents and graveyards, it’s great to access the same information rapidly with the click of a mouse while sitting in the comfort of my own study unshaven and wearing rumpled clothing.

I don’t have a simple answer to the question of privacy as regards accessing or publishing public data including personal family data made public through or other websites and publications. So far, I’ve taken the position that if it is public data, it should be accessible using modern technology – one should not have to visit the county courthouse – and publishable under our nation’s copyright laws. I don’t see how it can be otherwise. But then, I’m a genealogy data snatcher!

Unfortunately, there is more to the story than the right to privacy. All across America, old records are being tossed or shredded for lack of storage space or lack of personnel to maintain them. Even worst, historical documents dating back a hundred years or more are rotting in the corners and on the shelves of unsuitable storage facilities at county courthouses. Every genealogist sooner or later walks into such a facility, notes the black mold on their fingers, or remarks on the blackened ledger book pages and the growing pile of crumbling paper accumulating in the nooks and crannies. If someone doesn’t take the time to photograph these documents in high resolution with a digital camera, the information will soon be lost to all future generations.

I challenge the Gates Foundation, Warren Buffet, and all those other rich Americans with money to spend to put that money to a worthy cause and save American historical documents and records. Let’s immediately commit to having high resolution, digital images taken of all old records. Don’t convert microfilm to digital and accept the loss of image quality. Image the original documents. And if possible, fund a project to transcribe those documents into modern searchable files linked to the original images. What a boon that would be for the data snatchers.

And in the spirit of the website, let’s capture all tombstone inscriptions and cemetery records into one online site. Believe it or not, tombstones are not forever. Thirty years ago, my brother, my father, and I published a pamphlet containing the cemetery records for the Pleasant Union United Church in Randolph County, North Carolina. Today, some of those old tombstones have become so corroded with the passage of thirty years that they are no longer readable. Family history is being lost every day.

But should we, the public, have to pay for online access to digitized public records? Let’s see. I pay a yearly fee for access to records at,, and Mercifully, is free. While I grumble at the total price tag of several hundred dollars, it’s basically a bargain given the pleasure that it brings. Somebody has to pay to archive and provide access to the data.

The invasion of the data snatchers is here and it’s real. Maybe one day, the stories they uncover and reveal will form the script for the story of your family. Will it be one of gated communities and McMansions? Or will it be one of a struggle to survive in a fast-paced high technology society? In any case, plop down in your favorite easy chair next Sunday evening and enjoy the next installment of Downton Abbey. You won’t regret it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

CPRIT and Commercialization

By Keith McDowell

The creation in 2007 of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas by the voters of Texas was truly a historic event in our nation’s continuing war on cancer. Better known by its acronym of CPRIT, the institute promised to turn Texas into the epicenter of a world-class cancer research program that spanned the spectrum from basic research to clinical trials to clinical practice backed by innovative new commercial products and a thriving bio-medical industry driven by start-up companies. And like my many colleagues in the business of university research and technology commercialization, I was excited at the prospect of becoming a participant in such an important endeavor.

But then, as it always does, reality intruded. As the planning began and the practical details of CPRIT emerged and sorted themselves out during 2009 and 2010, concerns mounted as to what CPRIT was actually all about. Two areas in particular drew the most attention from members of the university community: the CPRIT commercialization plan and the performance of the CPRIT management. Sadly, as most often happens in such cases, these concerns were never sufficiently aired and were buried under the desire to “don’t make waves” and to “drink from the Kool-Aid” as it was being offered up. The second slogan in particular is a favorite among Texas powerbrokers who want to influence how people think and behave.

To understand the first concern and many of the present troubles at CPRIT – including the resignation of its top management and many of its external proposal reviewers, it is essential to place that concern about technology commercialization into the broader context of Texas politics including the history of the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (TETF). Let’s face it! Texas powerbrokers want a piece of the action. They want a return on their investment in Texas politicians. And that means a direct pipeline to state funding for their personal projects and, in some cases, a direct pipeline to controlling how university research is commercialized. What drives these people is the desire to push aside a fair and transparent process and to build in backdoors for them to skim funds into their own pockets, one way or another.  Does anyone remember Introgen Therapeutics or Convergen? It’s call cronyism.

But it’s more than simple greed, the desire to make a fast buck, or the entrepreneurial spirit – which in and of itself is generally good for business and global competition. In Texas, that spirit of capitalism is overlaid by a widely-held belief that Texas universities are not very good at technology commercialization and by a fundamental distrust fanned by the Texas Public Policy Foundation of Texas public universities, their faculties, and their administrators. It’s the Texas two-step where one puts forward a bogeyman in order to accomplish the real goal of setting up a system ripe for the picking.

Let’s be clear about this! The UT System routinely scores in the top ten and often the top five every year against other university powerhouses in all the principal metrics used to measure technology commercialization. I know. I produced such reports. Furthermore, Texas universities have been and continue to be world leaders in every phase of the research discovery to commercial product enterprise.

And that brings us to the second concern: the performance of CPRIT management under the umbrella of “politics as usual” in Texas. Some have postulated that the current troubles at CPRIT grew out of the rapid buildup and roll out of the program as well as a vague definition of commercialization and its role at CPRIT. While both are true, they don’t tell the real or the whole story. Here are some of the facts as I know them.

·      Technology commercialization experts from Texas universities met with CPRIT management and board members explaining to them how the Bayh-Dole Act and the large, complex, commercialization system actually worked. Documents were provided. They didn’t listen. Instead they devised different definitions and rules of engagement that forced universities to create a separate processing track for CPRIT grants, thereby needlessly increasing the workload at universities.

·      On numerous occasions, CPRIT management was encouraged to meet with the California stem cell initiative – a similar, large-scale, state-funded grants program known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) – and profit from their ramp-up mistakes. CPRIT management appeared not to listen.

·      CPRIT demanded a cradle-to-grave IT accounting system that would track progress from grant through discovery to patent to licensing deal to commercial product or start-up company. That’s a worthy data management system that all would like to have available, but such an IT system doesn’t exist. CPRIT didn’t listen when informed of that fact.

·      CPRIT demanded in its grant contracts that “discoveries” be immediately filed at CPRIT along with a market plan. So when does a “discovery” become a discovery, not to mention the rights of the inventor or the rights provided by Bayh-Dole when research is co-funded by the federal government as it often is? And does one really know from the outset how a discovery will ultimately become commercialized? It’s a game that changes with the time of day. CPRIT didn’t listen to this death by a thousand reporting slices.

·      And here is my favorite CPRIT demand: they required CPRIT approval for all terms and conditions of a license agreement made by a grantee institution, including changes made during the process of deal making. They guaranteed a five-day turnaround every time a change was made. Talk about killing a deal! And yes, they didn’t listen!

So let me be clear once again. There were and continue to be plenty of quality research administrators and technology commercialization experts in Texas who could have helped CPRIT get up and running in the beginning and who could help out today. But someone has to listen!

To be fair to the management at CPRIT, they had a tough job, especially as regards commercialization. As I was told several times behind closed doors and to paraphrase: “We have to satisfy the commercialization leadership on the CPRIT board.” That same leadership in Texas often pushes for “one-stop shopping” from a single, central, state agency that would manage all licensing of research discoveries from Texas public universities. They have also pushed for rapid deal-making by using a “one-size-fits-all” licensing contract. I promise you that both of these strategies are a prescription for sure disaster. Deal-making is a contact sport between people who want different things and there is no such instrument as a single deal structure that will satisfy both the biotechnology and IT sectors. Only a fool who knows nothing about technology commercialization would push for such measures as the sole means for operating the Texas technology commercialization enterprise.

CPRIT is too important to the future of Texas to be dismantled or reborn by the Legislature as yet another variant of its former self or the TETF. In that regard, I have a number of recommendations to make.

1.     The Texas Legislature should make sure that a cross-section of research administrators and technology commercialization experts from Texas universities are heard from and listened to.
2.     The Texas Legislature should call upon the management of CIRM and officials at the National Cancer Institute for their expertise and a formal review of CPRIT.
3.     Everyone must recognize that the expertise and criteria needed to review research grants versus commercialization grants are different, although the review process in both cases must be transparent. That factor must be built into any CPRIT processes and not be understood as part and parcel of the old saw about “researchers versus entrepreneurs.”
4.     CPRIT and the Texas Legislature must come to terms with what they mean by “commercialization” at CPRIT. 
5.     I strongly recommend that CPRIT funds not be used to invest in start-up companies, but if such is the case, then a rigorous program for conflict of interest must be in place to separate cronyism from legitimate investment in a company. Quite frankly, that will be hard to do given the “atmospherics” related to commercialization by powerbrokers in Texas. Furthermore, we already have the TETF to invest in start-ups!
6.     I strongly recommend that CPRIT create a “proof of concept” program similar to the former Texas Ignition Fund (TIF) at UT System as its principal commercialization vehicle. With an investment of $2 million in 45 grants, TIF helped to create 33 startup companies as of 2010. CPRIT should follow the NSF model and use such funding as a supplemental grant to fund the transformation of a research discovery into a viable “commercial concept.” Such funding is almost never available but is a proven method for greatly accelerating and enhancing technology commercialization.
7.     CPRIT should get out of the business of being an Office of Technology Commercialization and leave it to its grantee institutions to perform that function. Given the ridiculously low overhead funding (cost recovery) associated with CPRIT grants, I would encourage the Texas Legislature and CPRIT to include overhead funding in its grants specifically targeted for commercialization activities at its grantee institutions. It’s much better to build up infrastructure for the long term at grantee institutions than to run a poor substitute at CPRIT.
8.     CPRIT contracts and contract language should conform to both common and best practices as used in federal grant administration including application of the Bayh-Dole Act and appropriate flow-down language.
9.     With respect to CPRIT funding of incubators or business accelerators, I have mixed feelings. I probably would not fund such activities generically since they amount to economic development as opposed to commercialization, but would use again some form of supplemental funding tied to a specific research grant or else I would increase the overhead dollars to grantee institutions with an explicit provision that the funds be used for such commercialization purposes. In any case, if such funding becomes the norm, then CPRIT and the Texas Legislature should lay out a clear rationale for funding incubators and a pathway for all worthy incubator applicants to apply for such funding.  

The CPRIT story is not over but I’ve had my say, even though it pains me to dredge up what should be forgotten history. Hopefully others will speak out against the silliness that often pervades the technology commercialization discussion in Texas. Certainly, Laylan Copelin and other reporters at the Austin American-Statesman and competing newspapers will continue to follow the leads and inform us as to the future of CPRIT. I believe that that story will ultimately be a bright one filled with major developments in the war on cancer.