AUTM Survey: University Licensing Strong Despite Economy

According to the 2009 Survey of the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), which was just released today, during fiscal year 2009, 596 new companies were formed as a result of university research, which is one more than the 595 formed in 2008 and 41 more than the 555 formed in 2007. The increase, while modest, does come despite a downturn in the U.S. and global economy, proving that even during a down economy good technology and innovation can and does create jobs.  The AUTM survey also shows that invention disclosures continue to rise, patent applications are up, and during fiscal year 2009 there was a surprisingly high increase in foreign filings over fiscal year 2008.

“The data reported by universities reveal that academic technology commercialization continued to thrive even in the midst of the global financial crisis, providing a steady stimulus to the economy” says Ashley J. Stevens, DPhil. (Oxon), CLP, AUTM president. “The majority of the startups formed are located in the licensing institution’s home state, which demonstrates that the Bayh-Dole Act continues to have a major impact on local economies across the nation,” adds Stevens.

In terms of mechanics, the 2009 AUTM survey was sent to 322 U.S. institutions, which is up 12 from 310 U.S. institutions that were contacted in FY2008. Of the 322 U.S. Institutions contacted 249 were universities and colleges, 69 were U.S. hospitals and research institutions, and four were third-party patent management and investment firms. The response rate was 56.2 percent, which included 153 U.S. universities, 27 U.S. hospitals and research institutions, and one third-party patent management and investment firm.

In 2009, 181 institutions reported 20,309 disclosures, an increase of 194 (0.96 percent) compared with the 20,115 disclosures from 189 institutions in 2008. This marked an uninterrupted trend of annual increases in total disclosures since 2000.

Invention disclosures were highest in the biomedical and biotechnology fields (see chart below).

In 2009, 12,109 new patent applications (defined as the first fling of patentable subject matter) were filed by 179 institutions, a decrease of 85 (1%) from 12,194 new patent applications reported by 187 institutions in 2008. The breakdown in filings was as follows: 69% of new patent applications were filed as U.S. provisional patent applications; 15% percent were filed as U.S. utility applications, and 11% were filed as non-U.S. applications. I realize that does not add up to 100%, but that is what the survey reported (see page 25). Surprisingly, the number of foreign filings rose significantly, from a low of 848 in 2008 to 1,322 in 2009, representing a single year increase of 56%.

Total license income received in 2009 reported by 179 institutions was $2.33 billion, a decrease of $1.11 billion, or 32.5 percent, compared with the $3.44 billion reported by 188 institutions in 2008. The drop seems attributable to the fact that there were no large one time payments. According to Shawn Hawkins, AUTM vice president for metrics & surveys: “The number of licenses executed in 2009 increased slightly over the number reported in 2008 while total license income declined 32.5 percent from what had been reported in fiscal year 2008. However, as discussed in the survey report, the 2008 income figures included two large, one time royalty stream monetization payments and two large, one time litigation settlements totaling over $1 billion. The 2009 figure is slightly higher than license income reported in 2008 when these one-time payments are excluded.”

The amount of money universities spend annually protecting and maintaining their intellectual property has grown steadily over the years and tracks fairly closely with the number of disclosures received. This represents a commitment on the part of the universities toward their faculty innovators and recognition that the commercialization of certain intellectual property by industry requires intellectual property protection in order to give them a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Legal fees expenditures were $343.1 million in 2009 reported by 175 institutions, an increase of $7.4 million (2.2 percent) compared with the $335.7 million reported in 2008.

The AUTM survey also showed that staff levels within technology transfer departments continues to increase. The number of licensing professionals from universities, hospitals and research institutions as well as technology transfer firms increased slightly from 1,039.34 reported in 2008 to 1,049.76 in 2009. The total number of 1049.76 licensing full-time employees (FTEs) reported by 181 institutions makes an average of 5.8 FTEs per offce, which is up from 5.4 FTEs per offce in 2008. In 2009, 180 institutions also reported 1,056.69 other FTEs which is up by 3.81 or 0.4 percent compared to 1,052.88 reported in 2008. Therefore the total FTEs (licensing FTEs + other FTEs) reported in 2009 was 2,106.45, compared to 2,092.22 reported in 2008, marking an increase of 14.23 or 0.68 percent in staffng levels in 2009, which is rather remarkable given that 2009 saw a significant reduction in the number of jobs in the U.S. economy as a whole.


On January 4, 2011, AUTM contacted me to inform me of an error in the original report. I received an advanced copy that was embargoed until the release on December 17, 2010. Soon after the initial report was released it was discovered that the licensing income reported by hospitals was incorrect in the original report. The last two columns of the U.S. Hospitals and Research Institutes table on page 53 of the AUTM summary report were switched and we did not catch the error until after this article was published. A new, corrected report was sent to participants, but unfortunately I did not receive a copy of that updated report until January 4, 2011. The numbers reported above for the top 5 hospitals are the cumulative income for 2007 – 2009.


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2 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Trent Ostler]
    Trent Ostler
    February 18, 2011 12:52 pm

    Thanks for the article. I wonder why it takes a year to gather the data. The link you provide for the 2009 survey is dead,

  • [Avatar for Bill Payne]
    Bill Payne
    December 22, 2010 12:52 pm

    Thanks, Gene-
    “during fiscal year 2009, 596 new companies were formed as a result of university research” sounds exciting. But, to be helpful in evaluating our progress in commercializing public R&D, we a further breakdown in those companies. How many were set up purely to get the technology outside the univesity? How many were set to to facilitate further public R&D investment? But, much more importantly, how many were set up as growth companies and have raised at least $300,000 in angel financings or $1 million VC financings? Just reporting university spin-outs is insufficient date for anyone to get excited (or depressed).
    I estimate that angels and VCs fund less than 200 companies based on university R&D annually (and probably less than 100 annually). Considering that angels annually provide first-time funding 15,000 to 20,000 startup ventures while VCs make their first investment in nearly 1000 companies annually, 100-200 startups out of universities seems tiny.
    Bill Payne | Angel Investor