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1 June 2018

Ku retires from Stanford OTL

Katharine Ku, head of Stanford University’s tech transfer office, is retiring today after having led the unit for 27 years and will be replaced by Karin Immergluck.

Author: Thierry Heles, editor

Katharine Ku (pictured), executive director of Stanford University’s tech transfer division Office of Technology Licensing (OTL), is retiring today after nearly four decades with the office.

Ku took over leadership of OTL in 1991 from the office’s first executive director, Niels Reimers, though she had been with the office since 1981. Her first job with Stanford University was as a patent engineer in the Office of Sponsored Research in 1979.

During her time with OTL, she oversaw a significant expansion of the unit – the headcount increased from 20 to 48 and annual income generated grew from approximately $25m to between $50m and $100m.

The office licensed hundreds of technologies and secured $1.8bn in income, the majority of which was reinvested into research, during her time. Ku was also one of the first to establish an Industrial Contracts Office at a time when such a division was still a rarity at universities.

Some of the technologies she was involved with include public key cryptography, which enables anyone to send an encrypted message to a recipient without knowing the recipient’s password, and DNA cloning.

In fact, her first job was calling 73 companies to request a fee of $10,000 for their use of DNA cloning technology. She has joked that she “can cold call anyone now.”

Global University Venturing’s recent 2013-2017 data review into spinouts also revealed that Stanford University was leading the pack globally when it comes to the number of deals in their spinouts and came in second place for the amount of capital raised by spinouts.

For a four-year period in the mid-1990s, she also led the Office of Sponsored Research, which then managed publicly and privately funded research at Stanford.

Ku received the Bayh-Dole Award from professional organisation the Association of University Technology Managers in 2001 for her work advancing tech transfer.

She has been an influential figure beyond Stanford, too. She led the development and implementation of a document titled “In the public interest: nine points to consider in licensing university technology”. The text has been signed by more than 120 institutions since 2007.

Ann Arvin, vice provost and dean of research at Stanford, said: “She has an innate optimism and a healthy skepticism, and that has been to the benefit of Stanford. We are often asked what is in the secret sauce. The true secret ingredient is Kathy.”

Ku will be replaced by Karin Immergluck, who joins OTL today after having been executive director at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)’s commercialisation arm Office of Technology Management.

Immergluck held that position since October 2015, having started out at UCSF as a licensing officer in 2004 after three years as a licensing officer in the Office of the President at University of California.

At OTL, she hopes to build on Ku’s work and has already started engaging with staff, faculty and industry partners. One of her first goals will be to simplify processes for faculty and student startups, while she also wants to increase efforts around major industry partnerships.

Ku will remain with OTL over the summer to act as an advisor to Immergluck and may continue to consult on technology licensing, saying: “There is always more to learn. I look at my career and it has been really fun.”

Immergluck admitted that Ku will be a hard act to follow, saying: “My plan is to build on what Kathy Ku has already established and not reinvent the wheel.

“I welcome the opportunity to ‘channel my inner Kathy’ to become the next global ambassador for Stanford University, its brilliant faculty and its hottest innovations.”

– Image courtesy of Stanford University

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