Scratching Beneath the Surface of Collaborative R&D Partnerships
The flow chart below merges together what Henry Chesbrough describes as the two parts of open innovation -— outside-in and inside-out. We have a several recommendations for proceeding systematically and proactively. Let’s scratch just a little bit beneath the surface of each step.
Need Identified: Make sure the need fits into your organization’s overall strategic direction. Also, focus on those strategic needs where partnering will have the biggest impact and where partnership is most necessary. What are your strategic goals, what are your capabilities, and what are your gaps? That’s where your need is.
Technology Available? A trade study is helpful here, but remember to involve personnel who have insights on industries and technical areas outside your core. Sometimes the best technical solutions come from a completely unrelated area. (Who would have thought that a technology for monitoring astronauts’ health would help football players?!)
R&D Project Identified: If you’re in a make-not-buy situation, be sure you understand the requirements of the need. Once you have that, then you can look for potential partners whose requirements are similar. They are unlikely to be an exact match, but as in horseshoes, close counts!
Market Need? In researching the market needs for the technology that is going to emerge from the R&D project, consider not only the needs of partner’s market but related needs in other markets. That way you can tweak the development or testing such that the technology is more attractive as a licensing candidate in other industries. This is important, since a single technology can be applicable across a wide range of applications, as you can see by the technologies available for licensing on Fuentek’s Web site. NASA’s HHT signal processing algorithms is a great example of a widely applicable innovation.
Collaborative R&D: Consider the keys to successfully forming collaborative R&D partnerships. Persistence and creativity are essential.
Need Fulfilled: Once the solution has been achieved, you might have to do some “internal sales” to help ensure that the technology is adopted or infused in your product line or project.
Spinoff: Although the flow chart might suggest that the shift to out-licensing happens at the end, spinoff actually is a focus throughout the process, as you no doubt noticed in some of the recommendations above. The overlap between collaborative R&D and IP management is the heart of Symbiotic Innovation.
Of course, these recommendations are far from a complete list. You can get more details in Laura Schoppe’s 2005 paper, “Investigate before Investing: Using Technology Transfer Principles to Guide R&D” as well as the follow-on paper “Sources for Space Technologies: Finding and Evaluating New Partners.” In these papers, Laura presents several examples that illustrate why it is important to look externally for technology solutions. She also presents several how-to steps for implementing this approach.
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