Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tech transfer is good for academics and good for society

In the life sciences business, patents have an enormous influence on success and profitability. Whether this should be the case is an interesting debate, but not the topic of this post.

The current IP landscape in the life sciences generally consists of: a) research institutions (largely academic universities) generating the lion's share of innovative intellectual property, some of which ends up as filed patent applications, and b) operating (profitable) businesses getting increasingly large, and relying more on in-licensing to drive innovation. This is quite an amazing phenomenon, and may be a central reason the United States continues to dominate life science innovation.

The current bottleneck in this process is that only a small proportion of the IP filed at universities ends up getting licensed by businesses. This inefficiency is unfortunate, since much of this research is funded by taxpayers, and proper translation into business will accelerate progress, create jobs, and boost productivity.

A key way to alleviate this bottleneck is to encourage inventors to pursue licensing of their inventions. The typical route most academics take is to dump their technical data on the Tech Transfer office, and assume everything will take care of itself (or if it doesn't, they are off to the next thing already). There is huge benefit for inventors to take it at least one step further-- make sure the information is easily understandable, make the effort to "sell" the license to potential partners, and build a network of relationships with potential partners. It's a small effort to make to lock in "free" revenue streams for up to 20 years. In fact, finding a licensee early often means they will cover the (usually extensive) legal burden to ensure the patent is granted. (Most new inventors are shocked at how complex the process of getting an application to a granted patent ends up being.)

Not only is this lucrative for the inventor (and the business), but there is a feel good factor that comes with getting novel technology into the "real world". Especially considering the alternative of having all that hard work sit on the shelf, losing value with each passing month.