Since the Bayh-Dole Act went into effect in 1980, allowing entities to own and monetize IP stemming from federally-funded research, there has been much debate about to what extent universities can and should commercialize their intellectual property. Academic institutions struggle with the commercialization of research, even decades after legally being allowed to do so. There are many interconnected reasons for this, including an academic culture that may not value monetization and a lack of the unique skills required to launch a startup.
Roadblocks to Commercializing University Research
The culture of innovation at many universities prioritizes research over commercialization. Technology transfer offices (TTO) must overcome the notion that universities exist solely for the betterment of society rather than commercial gain. Faculty (and student) performance has long been based on research-based objectives, such as attracting funding for and subsequently publishing research. It’s also worth noting that this type of disclosure, if not completed with guidance from the TTO, can harm a researcher’s ability to patent (and monetize) later.
University technology commercialization must address the large gap between research and implementation. Academics aren’t “commercializers,” shares Wharton management professor David H. Hsu. One technology transfer director uses an analogy to explain the situation: “Academic researchers show up in [my] office with a metaphorical bag of flour and a cup of sugar… when what investors and potential partners want is a fully baked cake.” Bridging this gap requires a litany of resources; perhaps most important among them is funding that covers the costly stages between academic research and commercialization, including proof of concept and prototyping. Other essential resources universities must provide to capitalize on intellectual property include training and education, mentors, removing silos and encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration, IP strategy support, and the enforcement of existing IP rights.
Commercial success is not always easily achieved or measured, making its adoption more difficult. Potential measures of success include, most obviously, revenue generated from various monetization strategies. Licenses executed, startups created, invention disclosures filed, and patents issued are also viable markers. Other economic impacts should not be overlooked, including jobs created and products sold as a direct result of any commercialized IP.
Capturing Opportunities for Monetization
Removing these roadblocks opens the door to the commercialization of research, which offers the potential of monetary gains to the inventor and university while also benefiting society as a whole, especially in the fields of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. Universities must first encourage researchers to embrace the entire innovation lifecycle, making commercialization part of the culture. Creating a supportive ecosystem “filled with entrepreneurial experience, generous mentors… and access to funding at all stages of development” ensures faculty and students have the resources to embrace such a shift in the culture of innovation.
Interdisciplinary collaboration and access to information across teams are essential to this change as well. Allowing researchers and engineers to access the same patent data as the legal and business teams later in the innovation process helps academics adapt to (and excel at) university technology commercialization. A user-friendly solution like IP.com’s InnovationQ Plus® offers insight into the technology landscape and support during the invention disclosure process.