Free IT IP to boost chances for boffins

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.

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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.

David Braue

December 5, 2011 – 10:49AM

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