August 19, 2009

Utilization models of early-stage research

Long time no blogging...

Switching jobs makes you re-think some of your preconceived theoretical frameworks of how the world works. This was certainly the case for me when I switched from a more traditional intellectual property right (IPR) focused job to one where the core is in identifying intellectual assets (IA) and managing (IAM) these to create knowledge-based business models. Obviously still considering intellectual property and capital, but with an emphasis on the actual core of value creation (i.e. understanding the building blocks that collectively can generate IP/IPRs/IC etc.). With this as a basis, it is interesting to reflect over how early-stage research results (e.g. ideas, technology, etc) can be effectively converted into objects ready for utilization. Since there seems to be no magic recipes, my intention with this blog post is to explore some interesting models that are designed to promote societal utilization and technology dissemination of research results.

Technology Transfer Office (TTO) model

This is the traditional, often totally IPR-focused, model where universities have an internal system where they track inventions and patentable objects and have a number of strategies to ensure utilization and technology dissemination. Typically the personnel at the TTO employs a process to scan the internal R&D activity to identify research results of commercial interest. Protection strategies (e.g. patenting) can then be implemented in close collaboration with the researcher.

Exploitation strategies are then pursued where the three most common probably are;

  • Licensing: A license agreement is negotiated to offer rights to the patentable invention (access/ownership) according to the claims made in the written IPR. This is sometimes complemented by a knowledge transfer model where the researcher provides consulting to the licensee to transfer required know-how.
  • Spin-out: A startup is formed around the invention where often the inventor is one of the entrepreneurs managing the company or at least gets some sort of ownership stake in the company depending on the circumstances and complexity of the technology. This vehicle often relies on access to external funding, e.g. venture capital.
  • Joint-venture: An entity is formed jointly between two (hopefully) complementary partners to create synergies while sharing risks and rewards.

Examples of successful technology transfer offices include; MIT Technology Licensing Office, Harvard University Office of Technology Development,

Examples of spin-out models where the created venture are managed by students educated in innovation and entrepreneurship; Gothenburg International Bioscience Business School, Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship

Cluster of specialized entities

This model can consist of;

1) one entity with multiple specialized divisions,

2) a network of specialized companies/organizations, or,

3) a combination of 1 and 2.

There must be at least one entity dedicated to research that can provide results to the others for commercialization. For utilization effectiveness, it is convenient if certain types of innovations, e.g. all results with medical applications, always goes to the same entity for commercialization. This does not have to mean that ownership is transferred but rather that rights are granted for further development and marketing. As you are probably already thinking, this model builds on proficiency in managing one's business model by using open innovation platforms and platforms can be created on all levels; international-, national-, regional-, company-, project level.

Examples of company models (1) are big corporations such as IBM that has several R&D departments and specialized units to handle commercialization through different applications with activities ranging from aerospace to healthcare.

An example of a network model (2) is SweTree Technologies: IP from 44 cutting-edge researchers is transferred to a privately held holding-company that in turn holds shares in a company specialized in commercializing plant- and forest biotechnologies.
An example of an international combined model (3) is SRI International that creates utilization through licensing, contract research and spin-outs through its specialized divisions and subsidiary Sarnoff.

Combined dissemination and commercialization model

This is a model that can be applied as a strategy to ensure technology dissemination onto the model above (i.e. as a platform strategy or business model) both on multiple and single entities. Core to this model is the separation between commercialization for-profit and technology dissemination for-societal-benefits. However, separation does not mean that only one of these paths should be pursued. On the contrary, a successfully designed model should be able to support simultaneous implementation of both. This is an interesting model from the standpoint of considering how to balance profit-making incentives with knowledge-disseminating incentives, in an ethical way.

An example of this model is the Human Proteome Resource (HPR) program publishes antibody profiles in the Human Protein Atlas based on proteins mapped in the program, while Atlas Antibodies is the commercial vehicle that produces, markets and sells antibody products developed and validated in the HPR Center.

These are all widely different models for utilization of research results but I think that it is interesting to see that some of the same underlying principles of these models can be applied in a number of different settings and contexts (e.g. universities, companies, innovation systems, individuals, networks, etc.). There is obviously also a whole range of pros and cons associated to these models but I won't go into detail in this post. Platform building, technology transfer and management of early innovation is just some of the subjects that will be discussed at CIP FORUM (6th-9th Sep) that I encourage you to register to, for a continued discussion.

Tobias Thornblad

(Contact via Twitter)

1 comment:

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