Trouble on the technology transfer front from the University of Texas. I will have to learn more, but here is the one line pitch — uber successful California biotech researcher Richard Miller is lured to Texas to lead the way as the first commercialization chief, but quickly runs into conflict of interest issues for being too entrepreneurial! From Kirk Ladendorf at the Austin Statesman.
Miller, a veteran biotechnology researcher and entrepreneur in California, went to work for UT in September 2010 to help turn more of the school’s research discoveries into new jobs, companies and licensing income. As part of his job, he oversaw the work of the Office of Technology Commercialization, which assists companies that are interested in using patented UT technology and negotiates licensing deals with them.
Miller resigned effective Dec. 31 after he was told by UT officials that he could not have a personal and financial involvement in companies that might want to license technology developed at UT.
UT generated $25.6 million in licensing revenue in the most recent fiscal year and completed 29 new licensing and options agreements, according to the commercialization office’s website. The school also received 58 U.S. and foreign patents last year.
Juan Sanchez, UT’s vice president of research, said there was no active conflict of interest with Miller’s involvement with the companies because they had not yet licensed technology from UT. However, Miller “was setting up a scenario in which he would be negotiating with himself, and that would have been a conflict of interest, which we would not allow,” Sanchez said.
“We couldn’t move forward with his expectation of having a dual role” with the companies, Sanchez said. “It was clear that he would have to divest his interest. The resignation was his call. I would have liked him to remain as chief commercialization officer, but he chose not to.”
Sanchez said he instructed Miller in December to divest his interests in three startup companies that he had co-founded with UT faculty members and graduate students. Miller did divest his holdings in the three companies — Wibole, Graphea Inc. and Ultimor — but resigned sometime after that discussion, Sanchez said.
Get the most out of university technology transfer is a common cry, its no wonder we are running into scenarios such as this.
Over the past decade, UT has stepped up its efforts to generate more revenue from technology licensing. Part of the reason is faculty pressure and recruitment of top-level researchers. Both new recruits and existing research faculty have pressed the school’s administration to take a more proactive role in tech commercialization.
Pike Powers, an Austin lawyer and veteran economic development activist, said Miller brought new ideas to UT but might not have understood the constraints of working for a public university.
“He was offering some new ideas and thoughts about ways that the University of Texas could be more competitive,” Powers said. “I don’t think he received as strong a reception as he wanted to receive, so it was frustrating for him. He met with numerous members of the business community, and we advised him to be very careful about what steps he took next and to make sure he had the full support of the business community and the UT administration. But I don’t think he ever heard that message to the extent that he should have.”
What I find interesting is that people are looking for entrepreneurial leaders, but they also demand consensus. That is a little backwards no?