Technology transfer. It's about the money, sure. But
it's not all about the money. What it's really about, says
Jill Sorensen, is getting the faculty's discoveries and
inventions quickly into widespread use — by
physicians, businesses, even consumers — and thereby
improving health, standards of living and society in
Academic tech transfer in this country is beginning to
undergo a "paradigm shift," said Sorensen, newly appointed
associate provost and director of the university's
Licensing and Technology Development.
"I would like to be involved in leading that shift
here at Johns Hopkins," said Sorensen, former director of
the Office of Technology Management at the University of
Illinois at Chicago. The new view of tech transfer, she
said, must focus not necessarily on maximizing revenue but
rather on "stewardship that sometimes generates money, and
sometimes creates nonmonetary benefits, like improving
"If you judge the success of the technology transfer
of a vaccine, for example, just in monetary terms, you lose
sight of the benefits of vaccinating people," she said. "In
fact, the majority of the benefit may be in public health."
That's not to say that the potential financial returns
from a licensing deal or from a faculty-led startup company
are unimportant, Sorensen said. Licensing royalties and
equity stakes in new companies can provide important
incentives for faculty and help underwrite new research
initiatives for the university.
But Sorensen agrees with Vice Provost for Research Ted
Poehler, members of the university's new technology
transfer users group and others at Johns Hopkins who
believe that too narrow a focus on maximizing profit can
slow or even stall the process of bringing a discovery to
"You want to return a reasonable royalty," she said.
"You should know your business, know your markets, know
what a reasonable range of royalty is and negotiate the
best deal you can. But time also is money, so being prompt
and responsive also defines professionalism. The harder a
bargain you drive, the longer each deal takes. It's just
one more very important factor to weigh into the mix. You
can jeopardize getting technology into use and development
without a proper balance of these different value sets."
Sorensen, who will begin work March 1, will head a
25-person office working with faculty in the university's
eight schools (APL has its own tech transfer office). She
expects to spend a good part of her first year implementing
a more decentralized structure within the office, assigning
knowledgeable staff to work with faculty in individual
schools, developing skilled specialists in particular areas
of tech transfer and automating as much of the work as
"Jill is an outstanding person, smart, articulate and
a good manager," Poehler said. "She's the right person to
help us achieve our goal: to get our technology out into
the marketplace and get it used, to move it out the door
more quickly and less bureaucratically."
The key to successful technology transfer, Sorensen
said, is to work closely with and in the interests of both
faculty inventors and the businesses that hope to take
Johns Hopkins inventions into the marketplace.
"The faculty are front and center," Sorensen said.
"They drive the best that the university has to offer, and
a quality intellectual property system works with them and
Sorensen is an intellectual property lawyer with
nearly 20 years of law and business experience. She has
spent 18 of those years at the University of Illinois at
Chicago, where she was assistant and then associate
university counsel beginning in 1987. In 1998, she became
director of technology management and assistant vice
chancellor for research, reorganizing the office along a
decentralized model responsive to the needs of the
university's schools and faculty. In five years, her office
nearly doubled the university's invention disclosures and
the number of licenses it executed. The office also
promoted new models of technology transfer, including
leveraging intellectual property, particularly in global
health, for sustainable economic development in developing
In 2003, she won UIC's Chancellor's Academic
Professional Excellence Award for job performance above and
beyond the call of duty. Last year, she assumed a new
position as director of health initiatives, building
international partnerships focused on global health.
Sorensen is a 1981 graduate of Northwestern University
and earned her law degree in 1985 from DePaul University.
She has also done graduate study in chemistry at University
of Illinois at Chicago.