Conflict of interest causes UT chief commercialization officer’s resignation

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The University’s chief commercialization officer resigned after he followed University advice to avoid conflict of interest when licensing UT technology. His resignation left an empty role in the Office of Technology Commercialization during a time of attempted growth.

Problems arose for the former chief commercialization officer, Richard Miller, when he planned to license UT technology to companies in which he held stock, associate vice president for research Robert Peterson said.

Miller divested his shares in the three companies to avoid conflict of interest issues, but he ultimately resigned. Miller did not return requests for comment.

Peterson said he became aware of Miller’s resignation at the end of November after Miller approached University officials about the issue. Miller’s resignation became effective Dec. 31.

“He resigned because he was told that he could not negotiate with himself,” Peterson said. “He would have had a tremendous conflict of interest.”

As chief commercialization officer, Miller worked with University faculty to turn their research into commercial products and startup companies. Miller received a salary of $310,000 per year at the University.

Miller hailed from Silicon Valley, and once hired at the University, it seemed as though Miller never turned his attention away from the tech industry in California, Peterson said. Miller remains an adjunct professor at Stanford University, a private college known for its success in technology commercialization.

Based on revenue generated and the number of companies created through each university, Stanford University ranks ninth in technology commercialization across the nation and UT ranks 17th, according to a report from the Association of University Technology Managers.

Peterson said Miller’s experience at Stanford may not have prepared him to work under the conditions of a public university, which Peterson said has very different rules about startups than private universities.

Miller considered licensing UT technology to the Ultimor, Graphea and Wibole companies, Peterson said, all of which Miller previously owned shares in.

Miller spoke to The Daily Texan in September and said he patented faculty ideas more selectively than UT previously did.

“We used to file almost everything that walked in the door,” Miller said.

Miller said technologies are now judged on potential for profit and market demand.

In a letter to University faculty, Vice President for Research Juan Sanchez said Miller advanced efforts to commercialize faculty ideas over the past 18 months.

“In his heart, though, Dr. Miller is still an entrepreneur and wants to work directly with startup companies in Austin and elsewhere,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said Dan Sharp, director of the office of technology commercialization, will lead the University through this transition and continue to help faculty members turn their research into products and startups.

Peterson said the University will conduct a national search for a chief commercialization officer with a skill-set similar to Miller’s.

Printed on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 as: Conflict of interest leads to resignation