Businesses can now try before they buy.
University researchers are expected to find it much easier to commercialise up to 80 per cent of new IT and scientific techniques under significant changes to intellectual property (IP) policies, being pioneered in Australia by the University of NSW.
The changes will see them giving away the fruits of their research for free in the hope of exposing them to potential commercial partners.
The move comes as the UNSW launches its version of Easy Access IP courtesy of UK academic Dr Kevin Cullen, who brought the model to Australia after bringing it to life at UK universities including the Universities of Glasgow and Bristol, and King’s College London. It is an initiative of UNSW’s IP-commercialisation arm, NewSouth Innovations (NSi), that aims to get innovative UNSW research in IT-related, biochemical and other areas off the shelf and into the real world.
The new scheme is already raising new hope for Dr Nagaraj Shivaramaiah, a senior research associate within the Satellite Navigation and Positioning Lab within the UNSW’s School of Surveying & Spatial Information Systems.
Shivaramaiah developed an algorithm that reduces calculation errors for the AltBOC receivers used by the European Space Agency’s Galileo satellite navigation system. He had hoped to market it to device manufacturers preparing to sell Galileo-compatible devices for its originally planned 2011 launch – but when the project was pushed back to 2015, he was left with unmarketable IP.
Easy Access IP will, he hopes, convince vendors to start working with his algorithm, then decide whether to commercialise it down the track.
“Companies are reluctant to buy IP from an external source right now because they’re not focusing on the Galileo system,” he explains
“One of the CTOs I spoke with said the technology is good and works, but that it was just five years too early. Each Access IP is a good strategy by NSi to make our IP available: they can try it and, if it works for them, after three years can decide to buy it or not.”
Another UNSW academic says Easy Access IP has already helped NSi put his research work in front of several potential partners. Dr Peter Reece, a lecturer in the UNSW School of Physics who helped create a novel technique that uses biological molecules to control the adhesion of optical components with nanoscale accuracy.
The ultra-precise technique – which its creators liken to Velcro in the way it tightly brings together two surfaces – could revolutionise the manufacture of optical communications components, but commercialising it requires far more resources than Reece, his peers, or UNSW can provide.
“It would have been an enormous financial burden to arrange myself,” says Reece, adding that NSi has already connected him with a number of interested potential partners.
“If this helps me find a commercial partner who’s willing to do the development work to take it to something commercialisable, that would be a quite positive outcome. And, in addition to publishing the work, it’s another venue to promote my research.”
With simplified licensing terms and recognition of UNSW’s contribution, NSi-managed IP will be made available free to companies for up to three years, during which time they can explore ways to capitalise on it to produce real commercial value and formulate longer-term partnerships. The list of ICT IP currently available includes techniques for super secure quantum cryptography and nano-processing, among others.
Easy Access IP was created to eliminate the barriers that often keep protectionistic universities from proactively engaging organisations with the resources to commercialise them.
“We’ve fallen into the trap of treating all IP as though it’s hugely valuable,” says Cullen.
“There is some IP that has huge commercial value, but once you start treating all IP that way you start building obstacles to the free flow of knowledge. We’d rather see it put to economic benefit than sitting on the shelf.”
By opening up the university’s IP books, Cullen believes Easy Access IP is a win-win that will give Australia’s best R&D talent worldwide exposure. Noting that around 20 per cent of UNSW innovations are IT and science related, he’s expecting the initiative could encompass 80 per cent of all future research. In turn, NSi could focus its commercialisation resources on the 20 per cent that are most likely to succeed.
“NSI are getting invention proposals from academics on a daily basis, but at the moment IP is seen as an obstacle to the relationship between universities and companies,” he says
“We want to use IP as a means of building relationships, and we’ve had many messages of support saying this is a very enlightened and refreshing thing to do.”
Meanwhile, the University of Technology Sydney is advertising an internal position for a “manager, innovation and commercial development” to join its UniQuest team. UniQuest was established by The University of Queensland and has partnerships with several other intitutions.
The team’s charter is to “develop and commercialise intellectual property flowing from the university”, the advertisementsays. The manager will work to handle the licensing, partnering and start-up opportunities, as well as manage ongoing ventures.
December 5, 2011 – 10:49AM