Friday, October 16, 2009

University research as the seed?

You have to love Chris Horn

Chris Horn is continuously working to promote innovation as a strong component of future economic development. This is not just theoretical discourse. When he speaks he carries the authority of one has proven himself to be phenomenally successful at bringing innovation to the commercial world.

This week he gave a presentation to Comreg’s annual conference in Dublin. The body of it is reproduced in his blog.

TCD IP licensing

One figure really stood out for me - it was the fact that the majority of the TCD licensing income comes from a single patent issued in 1994. With a 20-year expiry, that patent income will also disappear (if the technology is not already obsolete by then) in 2014. In reality, it will be harder to sign up new licensees in the last years of the patent life, so there may be an erosion of the income on that "star" patent with the passage of time.

With a total income of EUR 71 million for sponsored research, TCD generated a royalty income of EUR 126,000 with no cash from disposal of equity. If you only take the financial outcome as a measure of success, that is a whopping loss of 99.82%. Of course the financial measure ignores the value to the sponsors of the research results and the educational value of the research activity.

Universities should not beat themselves over the heads about poor licensing performance. It is well known that university research rarely makes a positive financial return. It is a pity that the talk at the conference did not extend to including figures for licensing success by industry rather than just universities.

The real value of university research

My belief – and maybe I am just being provocative – is that university research activities provide excellent basic training that can be exploited afterwards in the industries that employ graduates. It is in those commercial hothouses that the economically-exciting developments are born.

If Ireland’s smart economy is depending entirely on university research to deliver the economic benefits, the strategy is doomed ab initio to disappointing failure.

Leverage global IP

We have to get away from the concept that Ireland’s smart economy will spring out of home-grown knowledge. We have to leverage the global bank of knowledge regardless of its national origins.

With all the international goodwill towards Ireland, we have the possibility of becoming a hub for intellectual property commercialization. That ability to convert knowledge into profits is the Holy Grail and it is eminently achievable.

About the Author:
Raymond Hegarty, based in Luxembourg, is CEO of IP Foundation. He has broad experience of intellectual property and global technology transfer.

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