Fuentek's Tech Transfer Blog

Efficient Technology Sourcing: How-To Advice for Companies

Whether you want to improve your own business or introduce a new product or service line, technology/innovation is usually a major part of the solution. With all of the R&D at universities and government labs, it’s not always necessary to start from scratch to create that new solution or improvement. In fact, it’s best to always start with technology sourcing and look outside your company using open innovation—or better yet, Symbiotic Innovation—tactics.

Technology sourcing from universities and government labs can be a complex task. In our years of working with companies and with R&D organizations, Fuentek has seen both sides of the coin.

Get More Free Resources: Subscribe to The Fountain

Fuentek’s quarterly e-newsletter provides exclusive information and insights on top innovation management topics. Subscribe today and get free access to exclusive content in the next issue of The Fountain.

One of the challenges is balancing the needs and timelines of businesses with the priorities of inventors and their institutions. So, we have developed strategies to help companies effectively acquire valuable intellectual property (IP) and reduce the risks inherent in pursuing early-stage R&D.

Licensing Technology

The task of finding technologies available from universities and government labs has gotten easier in recent years with online databases and intelligent search engines. While it still takes more time than an online shopping trip for LEGOs (my personal favorite pastime), new resources facilitate the search:

  • AUTM’s Innovation Marketplace is the largest portal of university technologies available for licensing.
  • Flintbox.com is a portal for technologies, creative works, and course materials that connects research organizations and industry.
  • Many other resources are available in this article from Intellectual Asset Management magazine.

The patent suite that you helped us to acquire is a central asset to our firm as we move forward in setting up manufacturing operations. Fuentek helped us to better understand the portfolio, and what would be necessary to reach mutually beneficial deal terms.”

Then comes the negotiations. And here, things are trickier because it’s not just financial terms at play. Also up for discussion are exclusivity, research funds, inventor input, access to equipment… the list goes on. Careful negotiations can help you successfully cross the tech transfer chasm.

Sponsoring Research

Sponsoring research another tactic that can help your company secure innovation while it’s still in development. University research labs are often seeking industry funding to advance early-stage technologies. The benefit: You can help ensure that the R&D proceeds in a direction that aligns with your company’s needs, and you may also get first right of refusal to the resulting IP.

Here are a few things to look out for when it comes to sponsoring research at a university:

  • Know the IRS rules for pre-negotiating IP licenses with U.S. public universities.
  • Be aware that the perspectives that R&D organizations have toward innovation can be very different from business stakeholders.
  • Many universities have sponsored research staff working separately from the licensing team, which creates an extra layer in the negotiations process.
  • Think early on about IP ownership options, from shared IP ownership to exclusive licensing—and many options in between.

The Government Version of Sponsored Research

U.S. government labs offer a unique approach to sponsored research–type cooperation with industry. Because a government lab’s research must align with its mission, the R&D you’re interested in will have to align as well. But there are plenty of cases where a company’s interests and the government’s interests are a match. For example, your company may have skills, facilities, and knowledge to bring to the table that the government needs. For more information, check out this webinar on collaborating with university and government labs.

Long-Term Collaborations for Ongoing R&D

Still another tactic—and one that can pay off well into the future—is establishing an ongoing R&D collaboration with a university or government lab whose research is compatible with your long-term as well as short-term needs. The benefits of such a relationship are invaluable:

  • Efficiencies of Scale: Having a long-term master agreement streamlines launching follow-on efforts instead of pouring resources into a one-off project.
  • Symbiotic Innovation Can Flourish: The lab can benefit from your company’s skills, resources, and insight while you can acquire IP and know-how from the research organization.
  • Reduced Risk: These collaborations are much less risky than mergers and acquisitions.
  • A Testing Ground for Future Employees: You will be in an ideal position to attract top talent from your university partner’s graduate and Ph.D. programs.

As in any long-term relationship, you’ll need to set roles and responsibilities; scopes of work; and dates to revisit, revise, and recommit. But this up-front investment is worth it in the long run.

To sum up: Technology sourcing from government and university labs can benefit your company and your business goals. But the pathways into these organization and the relationships that ensue can be complex. With more than 15 years of work with these organizations, Fuentek can help companies find labs that are of most value to them and help set the ball in motion for success. Contact us to learn more.