Fuentek's Tech Transfer Blog

Worth Reading in Tech Transfer: Economic Development Trends, Open Innovation Costs, Sequestration Impact, and TTO Insights

Our end-of-summer worth reading list explores trends — or are they pendulums? — in the business/economy aspects of technology transfer, costs and benefits of open innovation, the impacts of sequestration, and insights from a few federal and university tech transfer offices (TTOs). Oh, and we have a funny video to close out the month. Enjoy!

Trends (Pendulums?) for Tech Transfer and Economic Development

I read two items this month that considered the connection between tech transfer and economic development. First there was the “Business Leaders Argue Scale-up over Start-up,” which observed that the big push in recent years toward launching/licensing to startups may be starting to wane in favor of established small/medium enterprises (SMEs). Then there was a report from the National Governors Association report “Top Trends in State Economic Development,” which reported that states’ economic development policies have increasingly expected universities to bridge the gap between research and commercialization and that “they are focusing on both how to create more startup companies in their states and how to find already-existing companies in the state that have the potential to get back on a growth path.”

In my mind, both of these are good things… provided they don’t go too far:

  • I have said before that an overwhelming focus on start-ups is detrimental to successful commercialization. So I think a pendulum swing back to keep SMEs in mind is a good thing — that is, if it brings balance to the decision making process. Focusing on a business model rather than the market structure and prospects is a flawed approach. Each opportunity should be analyzed to determine its best strategy for success rather than trying to fit it into a predefined destiny.
  • As for the NGA report,  governors’ support for job creation or their increased expectations from universities should not favor start-ups over other viable existing businesses. Similarly, I would encourage them not to dictate the business model that should be adopted to achieve commercialization success for economic development. Collaboration between the TTOs and the economic development agency is key, as we discussed in our 2010 white paper.

Open Innovation

The editorial “Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Open Innovation” mentioned Cisco’s Guido Jouret’s very realistic and accurate statements on the costs of running an open innovation campaign, especially surrounding evaluating the options and dealing with the intellectual property (IP) terms in legal documents. (Sounds familiar.) These are absolutely valid concerns, and they can be addressed.

The solution: Invest in analyzing the problem to determine whether open innovation is the appropriate route to success and then, assuming OI is the way to go, describe the technical problem well and be targeted in finding the solution — just as you would in finding licensees for innovations. (Can you say “Symbiotic Innovation“?)  The result is a reduction in the back-end costs (since you won’t have to filter through a lot of non-productive responses) and a more efficient legal process (since you’ll most likely be dealing with a business-to-business arrangement rather than trying to create a contract vehicle with people who had no legal representation or IP coverage at the time they provided the idea/solution). Granted, there is still value in trying to catch the serendipity that comes with a more passive/broader approach, such as crowdsourcing, but weigh the costs against the benefits before you go that route, as Jouret also suggests.

More (and More) on Sequestration

In case you missed my interview in the Associated Press last October — not to mention my letter to Santa — allow me to reiterate what I anticipated back then: Reductions in funding for basic research at universities and government labs (via sequestration caused by a lack of a proper federal budget) will negatively impact new innovation in this country. And there have been a host of articles and reports lately making this same point. To wit:

These pieces do a nice job of explaining the real impact of sequestration on all of our future. For some, the impact of sequestration is already being felt. But for all of us, the huge cost of it won’t be realized for quite a while. If don’t understand what sequestration is or think it doesn’t affect you, read the above items and then let me know what you think.

TTO Insights

A few things written by or about TTOs are worth reading:

  • How They Do Tech Transfer at the Oak Ridge Lab” presents the goals as articulated by tech transfer director Mike Paulus. Based on our experience, he has laid out the right goals and his numbers show that he is being effective in his implementation at the Department of Energy (DOE) lab. Kudos!
  • Two other DOE-related articles in the same issue of the commercialization journal Innovation were noteworthy. There was “And the New DOE Secretary Has Plans,” which excerpted Ernest Moniz’s recent Congressional testimony, while “Once More, Unto the Breach” discussed a study that found tech transfer needs to be more important for DOE. (The article noted that the “Turning the Page” report was developed “by a middle-of-the-road group, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, and two outfits that are polar opposites, The Heritage Foundation and the Center for American Progress. Thus, this summary merits attention.”)
  • Emory University’s OTT blog gave some excellent tips in its two-part series on “Unlocking the Power of Google Searching.” You might find it helpful to couple the information in these posts with our webcast on developing keywords to use in such searches.

And just for fun…
Check out this funny, short video prepared by student interns at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (yes, just like the folks that created the fabulous parody of “Gangnam Style”) about of the challenges of parking when you have to compete with the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle.

As always, feel free to post a comment below or send me a private message.


Worth Reading