August 10, 2001

McKinney to lead Technology Transfer

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McKinney to lead Technology Transfer

Christopher D. McKinney has been named director of the Office of Technology Transfer, a cross-campus office that provides services for both Medical Center and University Central.

The mission of the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) is to protect and promote intellectual property developed at Vanderbilt University. Through marketing and licensing activities, the OTT allows public use of inventions, creations, and discoveries and assures the benefit of the inventor, the University, and the community.

Prior to coming to Vanderbilt, McKinney served as vice president for marketing at the University of Tennessee Research Corporation, the technology transfer unit which serves that university.

It is McKinney’s mission as Vanderbilt’s director to broaden awareness of the services through publicity, increased communication with faculty, and other educational means, such as seminars and newsletters.

“Our faculty are our clients,” McKinney said, “and we need to service and facilitate their efforts. By working closely with them and getting involved early, we can help them make the most of their new inventions.”

Technology services offered by the OTT represent five major functions: identification, protection, marketing, licensing, and management.

Identification of ideas or inventions happens through a formal process of disclosure, and also through more informal means, often on the fly. McKinney is increasingly trying to shift the office toward thinking in terms of parallel processes, especially in trying to make the disclosure process less burdensome.

In the area of patent protection, Vanderbilt is trying to increase its resource base. Currently, the OTT has to be very selective about what patents it pursues, McKinney said, at the risk of passing over some potentially valuable candidates.

In the 1999-2000 fiscal year, there were 80 disclosures generated from Vanderbilt faculty. In that same year, 82 patent applications were filed in Vanderbilt’s name, and 27 patents issued.

Marketing of inventions often originates from the researchers. An estimated 70 percent to 80 percent of corporate deals are made from contacts initiated by the inventors.

Licensing of inventions requires skills that must be honed and are best learned through apprenticeship, McKinney said. No structured training exists for this process, so mentoring by experienced negotiators, such as McKinney, becomes important.

Certain areas of support offered by the OTT are almost hidden services, which do not normally generate invention-related revenue, yet are essential to the process and require significant time and resources.

These responsibilities include generation of material transfer agreements between Vanderbilt and other private and public entities, and oversight of intellectual property issues intrinsic to both sponsored research agreements and clinical trials agreements.

McKinney plans to enhance the services offered by the OTT by developing a more corporate image and through additional staffing. Soon, the OTT will move to a larger renovated suite to accommodate the staff, as well as faculty clients and visiting business leaders.

“The Office serves as an agent for the faculty and the university in attempting to complete and manage a successful transaction,” McKinney said. “Giving the technology the best showing it can have during business discussions and exchanges between attorneys will communicate that we are serious players.”

An environment that communicates success will better position Vanderbilt to attract partners, he pointed out, and to become recognized at the state and national level. The professional surroundings will also help to recruit staff, who will likely come from the relatively small but mobile pool of associates in the technology-licensing field.

Another part of McKinney’s mission is to extend the influence of the OTT outside of Vanderbilt’s borders.

“We want to be a constructive part of new initiatives, including making Vanderbilt a key player in developing a business incubator in Nashville.” McKinney also plans for Vanderbilt to be part of the growing state-wide, cooperative effort to make Tennessee known nationally as a center for commercialization of technology.

McKinney holds a doctorate in political science (public administration) from Idaho State University and an MBA in management from Oregon State University. He has been a senior licensing executive with Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and served as associate and interim director of the Office of Technology Licensing at the University of Florida.

“We are delighted that Chris has joined the Vanderbilt community,” said Lee E. Limbird, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research. “He is creative and entrepreneurial, and sees his role as both educational and facilitative. He has a track record of considerable success in capturing the intellectual property of his academic colleagues for commercialization that benefits society.”