Not too long ago, a Forbes post from UCLA’s John Villasenor entitled “Intellectual Property Awareness at Universities: Why Ignorance Is Not Bliss” caught my eye. It discussed the importance of teaching the next generation of engineers, scientists, and innovators “what IP is and why it matters.” Having conducted an informal survey of engineering grad students, Villasensor discovered that their understanding of IP was woefully lacking. He rightfully raised the question:
If tens of thousands of students engaged in research projects in American universities lack even the most basic knowledge about IP, how reliably can they [be] expected to “promptly report and fully disclose” their patentable inventions?
Although Villasenor focused on incorporating IP training into the academic curriculum (which IMHO is a good idea), there are scientists and engineers currently in the work force who could use this training as well. And technology transfer offices (TTOs) can help. In fact, it’s in a TTO’s interest to provide it.
We’ve blogged before about TTO-provided training for inventors on IP management basics, open innovation, and their role in tech transfer efforts. But this type of training isn’t restricted to a classroom setting.
For example, a project we recently completed for NASA’s technology transfer program involved creating a Web site to explain the in’s and out’s of filing invention disclosures (known at NASA as NTRs). The goal of our project was to create a user-friendly format for NASA innovators to learn about the importance of filing invention disclosures as well as the submission process.
We organized the new Web site to address the key who, what, when, why, and how questions about invention disclosures. The site also provides answers to more specific frequently asked questions as well as links to technology transfer success stories.
But the effort didn’t stop at the Web site. That was just one component in a multifaceted communications project. We helped develop an interactive online training program for NASA’s learning management system, presentations to research managers, and articles for employee newsletters.
If your TTO is ready to educate and inspire researchers — be they students or professionals — about their role in protecting IP and participating in technology transfer, consider the following advice.
Do Your Homework
Reach out to researchers to understand their perspective. For example, inquire as to why they aren’t filing their invention disclosures. There could be any number of issues at play. Is it that:
- Researchers do not know about the requirement and/or why it matters?
- The forms are difficult to access or complicated to complete?
- Researchers are just too busy and give priority to their other work?
Remember: Understanding the obstacles in your path is the first step in getting rid of them.
Make It as Easy as Possible
Most of the researchers would rather be “at the bench” than thinking about IP and filling out forms. So make it easy to file an invention disclosure and find helpful information about the process. It’s important to strike a balance between providing enough information to ensure understanding and overwhelming researchers with more than they need. Keep it at a high level, because you can always provide more details later.
Put It Online
Quite frankly, everyone expects to find the information they need online, so have it there waiting for them. Plus online information has lower costs, is more environmentally friendly, and is easier to update than print brochures and forms. Presenting information online also makes it easier to “layer” the level of detail, helping avoid the information-overload syndrome.
Users also expect to be able to fill out required forms electronically. (Does anyone still have a typewriter?!) You can use a PDF file with fields that can be filled out using the free Adobe Reader® software or develop a Web-based interface that’s integrated with the TTO’s information management system.
Hit Them from All Sides
Don’t rely on any one mechanism to communicate your message. As demonstrated by our NASA project, the more you repeat your message, the more likely it is to sink in. Consider online training videos, formal and/or brown-bag presentations, articles in employee newsletters (or perhaps a tech transfer–specific newsletter), or even table tents in the cafeteria. (You can see some samples here.)
For information on how Fuentek can help you enhance researcher/inventor involvement in tech transfer, contact us today.