When IP Draughts started in practice, many of those who worked in research contracts and technology transfer at universities were drawn from the pool of administrators. Many were not graduates. Most would not have regarded themselves as belonging to a technology transfer profession.
Their skills lay in working with academics over many years, and dealing with all the issues that academics tend to dislike (while believing they could do them better than those responsible for them), and which are bundled together under that dismissive name, administration. Some became highly skilled at managing relationships with industry, and rose to senior positions within leading universities (in one notable case, receiving an honour for doing so); some others probably deserved the opprobrium that academics hurled in their direction.
The people who work in technology transfer nowadays (or, if we are being inclusive or fashionable, knowledge transfer) tend to have many paper qualifications. They may have several university degrees – a PhD and MBA are not unheard of – and many will have attended professional training courses such as those mentioned below. Some have law degrees or are qualified lawyers.
Yet a significant part of their jobs has not changed from the early days. They are still required to work with academics, and liaise with industry. Their work is sometimes still referred to as administration, though there is greater recognition that it requires specialist skills. It is not a purely commercial role, though it requires many of the skills that business development managers in industry possess.
When a specialist work activity grows in scale, the people who perform that activity tend to come together for mutual support. IP Draughts has noticed a pattern to these activities across different disciplines. First, people come together and start to run national conferences and training courses. Next, they establish a professional qualification. At some point, this professional qualification becomes, de facto or de jure, a necessary condition of working in the sector. Finally, the body that oversees the qualification achieves recognition as a professional body. In the UK, this tends to be done by obtaining a Royal Charter.
IP Draughts has seen this happen in the UK investment community, which in the last 30 years has introduced professional exams and continuing education. In 2009, the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investment received its Royal Charter, thereby (according to the CISI website) “join[ing] the ranks of professional bodies such as accountants, lawyers and bankers.” In 2016, the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys received its Royal Charter.
The variety of roles within technology and knowledge transfer, and the variety of types of organisation that do these activities (eg a few research-intensive universities and a larger number of organisations that have a smaller throughput of TT or KT deals) may reduce the likelihood of reaching the final stage of this process soon. But progress is being made with some of the earlier stages.
Organisations such as PraxisUnico (in the UK) and ASTP/Proton (across Europe) have been running training courses and annual conferences for well over a decade. Disclosure: IP Draughts and his colleagues have taught on some of these training courses for many years, and IP Draughts’ partner Paul Maclennan is currently on the training committee of PraxisUnico.
In the last few years, membership organisations of technology transfer managers in different countries have come together to form the Alliance of Technology Transfer Professionals. ATTP has established a professional qualification, the Registered Technology Transfer Professional (RTTP).
Some technology transfer managers may also consider themselves licensing executives. A few years ago, the Licensing Executive Society (USA and Canada) formed an independent body to administer a new qualification, the Certified Licensing Professional (CLP).
A few weeks ago, a new qualification appeared. The European Knowledge and Technology Transfer Society appears to have grown with funding from the European Commission. It has established a certification for TT managers, at 3 levels.
A mixture of curiosity and professional pride led IP Draughts to apply for these qualifications (or should they be called certifications or registrations?). He is now entitled to put the letters CLP, RTTP and EuKTS (Expert) after his name. In reality, his qualification as an English solicitor (attorney) is the one from which he makes his living, but these other qualifications are nice to have.
TT practitioners are clearly travelling in the direction of professional status. But whether they want or need to reach that destination is far from clear. In IP Draughts’ view, a true profession has several attributes:
- A set of skills that are not easy to learn, and formal qualifications that must be obtained to demonstrate competence in those skills. Those skills should be maintained for as long as the individual remains actively involved in the profession.
- A shared understanding of what it means to be a member of the profession, and a shared set of professional values – an ethos. These professional values should be maintained in the face of pressures from employers, clients and others, and there should be a mechanism for ejecting people from the profession if they don’t adhere to these values.
- Protection for the public in the form of compulsory insurance and compensation schemes.
Using this definition, TT practitioners are making good progress with item 1. Many will feel they have elements of item 2, but not the formal processes. As most TT practitioners are employed rather than self-employed, item 3 may be less relevant.
It will be interesting to see where TT practitioners go next on their professional journey.