How faculty support and entrepreneurial programmes can boost research commercialisation
Universities can support an invention as it moves from the lab to real-world impact through key focus areas such as protecting IP and networking, writes Audrey Calvird
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Generating public-purpose technologies through the commercialisation of research directly contributes to universities’ missions, allowing innovative research to move out of the lab and into the hands of consumers, where it can make an impact.
Much of the research performed at universities focuses on creating inventions and solutions that address public needs, where projects are typically funded based on their potential impact. However, while the research may lead to public-purpose technologies, innovations from university research tend to land early on the “technology readiness level” scale and require substantial development before they are ready for commercialisation.
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Many universities, Georgia Tech included, have technology transfer offices that facilitate the development of innovations created through university research with commercial partners.
Here are a few focus areas that can help develop a more robust commercialisation programme at your university.
Protect researchers’ intellectual property
Understanding intellectual property (IP) is an important part of commercialising research, and it’s a multi-step process to take an invention from the lab out into the world. Once a researcher creates an invention, the first step is understanding their rights as an inventor and university employee. IP rights granted by patents are exclusionary rights, meaning the inventor has the right to prevent someone else performing or using their invention. At Georgia Tech, employees assign their IP rights to the university when they first sign on as an employee. This means that Georgia Tech, and the Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) specifically, will manage intellectual property for the university’s inventors.
The process of protecting an invention can vary by university. At Georgia Tech, for example, an inventor must submit an invention disclosure through the OTL website, where the OTL is notified of the invention. The OTL then assigns a licensing associate, such as myself, to manage the technology, and the licensing associate will work with the inventor to develop a strategy for protecting the intellectual property. This strategy typically involves filing a provisional patent, which works as a placeholder for a priority date in the prior art, or any pre-existing technologies, publications or patents related to the invention.
After filing a provisional patent, the OTL and the inventor(s) have one year to decide if they want to convert it to a US utility patent or submit a PCT application, a type of international patent filing that can provide protection in up to 157 territories. Then patent prosecution starts and after issuance, a patent grants about 20 years of protection from the filing date. Following patent protection, efforts are made to license inventions to companies and start-ups that pursue commercialisation of the technology.
Offer student and faculty commercialisation support
Researchers can create an entrepreneurial environment in their labs through supporting their students and researchers in the development of innovative research. At Georgia Tech, the Create-X programme allows teams of students at all levels to pitch their inventions. Teams also get access to the university’s resources to create start-ups around their ideas. This has led to more than 300 start-ups formed with a more than $1.4 billion (£1.13 billion) valuation.
Researchers can also develop their own start-ups with the help of VentureLab, a programme that enables student- and faculty-led start-ups to be successful through helping to define a “business thesis”, a statement that defines what the product is, who the customers are and why they will want the product. Many universities have similar offices that provide tools to foster entrepreneurial researchers who want to explore starting companies, whether that is through commercialisation grants, building management teams or other start-up support.
Stay on top of trends
Researchers tend to stay up to date on the latest and greatest within their field. The key to commercialising innovations is the networks that are available to inventors. Common networks include other researchers within academia, whether that is at their home institutions or at other universities. Beyond those connections, maintain networks with those who have left academia to move into industry. Conferences can also provide links to industry that may prove fruitful in research commercialisation. Through building their networks, researchers can also build bridges to opportunities for sponsored research agreements or licences for their inventions.
Staying up to date on governmental initiatives can provide insight on market trends and opportunities. The climate crisis, for example, is driving collaboration between university researchers and industry in an effort to provide greener solutions to everyday problems. Many institutes have interdisciplinary research groups and Georgia Tech is no different. Our interdisciplinary research initiatives in sustainability, energy and climate provide support for researchers specifically working on solutions to the climate crisis. Furthermore, it is expected that over the next five to 10 years, research and innovations in addressing the climate crisis will increase, because it is a global issue with appeal for researchers and industry alike.
Audrey Calvird is a licensing associate in the Office of Technology Licensing at Georgia Tech.
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