September 28, 2009

Monetizing R&D intangibles

In my job, I work quite a lot together with medical doctors and professors carrying out research projects where some form of commercialization potential has been identified. Often it is my role to come in as a business developer and by an initial intellectual asset due diligence process distinguish which of the R&D building blocks that are truly value creating and how these potential values may be extracted. As a part of this, I get to see quite a number of grant applications and discuss how these can be re-designed for effective communication of a project's value with a basis in their intellectual assets.


Tacit valuation model for early stage research

I think that it is interesting to think that a grant reviewer will (although probably to a large extent tacitly and indirectly) value the underlying potential of research activities and new technologies, and eventually determine whether the sought amount is a feasible investment. Certainly there are parallels with such an implicit valuation model to patent valuation where a challenge is to identify suitable metrics for estimation of the value of a technology.

So what are some of the soft metrics that could determine the value of a technology for a grant reviewer?


Value of scientific excellence

Most grant reviewers probably would like to say that their sharp eye spotted the Nobel Prize candidate long before its nomination and that it was that particular early-stage grant that enabled the discovery. However, in reality scientific brilliance may be difficult to determine. Especially so, if the grant reviewer's expertise happens to be in another area than what the application is describing. One way to "outsource" this determination is to rely on citations in scientific journals. A citation count corresponds to the number of times other research papers reference the results of a publication-of-interest. But it is not self-evident how to value citations solely based on the number. How would you distinguish between?

  • A higher number of citations due to a rather basic discovery
  • A low number of citations in highly respected journals
  • A high number of citations but none within the same research area
  • A low number of citations


Value of personal brands

Another aspect that is often quoted as high perceived value in the eyes of grant reviewers is to have successful competences associated to a project. Metrics to measure the significance of human capital include;

  • Curriculum Vitae (e.g. previous positions and experience)
  • Academic titles
  • Citations (e.g. H-index, citations per year, total citations)
  • Publications (e.g. how many, in which journals, co-authors)
  • Previously raised financing through grants and commercialization


Value of association to other trademarks

Association of research projects with other entities and initiatives can be interpreted as different identities and perceived values for projects. Here are some examples;

  • Market closeness: Letter of intent from a collaborating company
  • National/regional importance: Proof of participation in research platform (e.g. IMI, FP7)
  • Societal value: Grant approval letter from major foundation (e.g. B&M Gates Foundation)


Value of legal clarity and technology transferability

For grant reviewers that are interested in seeing research results being utilized and commercialized, value metrics may include;

  • Patents (e.g. number of patents, coverage, assignee/inventorship)
  • Agreements (e.g. consortia agreements - ensuring that rights to results are governed)
  • Freedom-to-operate evaluations


However, there are also newer metrics in the knowledge economy such as quotes on how many registered unique users one's database has. Other interesting metrics could for example be generated in open innovation projects such as Folding@Home (where a complex biological computation is distributed on 250 thousand CPUs of personal computers) where the project could claim to have access to 25 000 CPUs (assuming 10% usage of each CPU).

Will we see the numbers of "Digg it"-clicks, twitter hits and LinkedIn connections in future grant applications as metrics for societal interest and networks?


Tobias Thornblad

(Contact via Twitter)

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