University alliances team up to market research

Three technology transfer hubs are being set up by Chilean universities in a bid to substantially increase their applied research as well as to market it at home and abroad.

Three technology transfer hubs are being set up by Chilean universities in a bid to substantially increase their applied research as well as to market it at home and abroad.

Twenty-six universities, 12 science and technology centres and 11 industry representatives are participating in these alliances, masterminded by the government’s development corporation, CORFO. CORFO is co-financing the three networks to the tune of US$19.74 million for five years.

HubTec, Know Hub and Andes Pacific Technology Access, which is what the three hubs have been named, will generate and attract expertise in the fields of intellectual property management and transfer of technology, and will relate to industries and their innovation needs.

They should also open up markets for their applied research and development, or R&D, projects, adopt the best transfer and licensing practices, as well as establish new technology ventures, increase the amount of private capital invested in them and find risk capital, in Chile and internationally, for young applied R&D start-ups.

“Universities have been doing more applied R&D over the past five years and have been making a real effort to transfer their home-made technologies, as shown by the fact that the number of technology transfer offices [TTOs] in universities doubled between 2010 and 2015”, Marcela Angulo, CORFO’s technological capacities manager, told University World News.

“But if the country and its universities were to go into more complex technologies, we needed to think big. Chile’s internal market is very small so helping universities to think globally and to get into the major leagues of applied R&D is a must. This task was beyond the capabilities of the TTOs, hence the hubs programme,” she added.

More patents

Nevertheless, the TTOs have succeeded in increasing the number of patents applied for and obtained by universities – most patent applications in Chile are from universities. And the number of patents they have applied for has been rising steadily.

According to the latest report by Chile’s National Institute of Industrial Property, last year Chilean universities entered 135 patent applications, 17,4% more than in 2014. The Catholic University of Chile, the University of Santiago and the University of Concepción topped the list of patent applicants.

Alvaro Ossa, director of transfer and development of the Catholic University of Chile told daily newspaper La Tercera that in 2010 the university took the decision to push innovation and applied research in first degrees, postgraduate studies and academic research.

“We have established policies, rules and incentives to innovate and patent. We are moving towards measuring research success not only by the number of research papers produced but also by the number of patents obtained by academics and researchers. We have promoted joint research with industry and transfer through spin-offs and licences,” Ossa added.

The Catholic University’s patent applications are principally in the biomedical area, engineering, agronomy and architecture.

Juan Manuel Zolezzi, rector of Santiago University, had a similar tale to tell: “For seven years now we have been among the universities that obtain more patents due to the fact that we established a development, research, innovation and business ventures strategy. Academics and researchers are supported by a technological management directorate, which provides advice on legal matters and on setting up a business. We even have specific rules on turning research into innovations that help people.”

The disciplines of the 29 patents applied for by Santiago University in 2015 include foods, nanotechnology, metallurgy, software and vaccines.

High expectations

The expectation is that the new technology hubs will lead to many more patents, licences, contracts and will foster the establishment of new enterprises.

Each of the three hubs must set itself up as an organisation within 10 months and produce a transfer of technology plan in a year. Each hub has around 12 members and, although they have flexibility to operate, they are required to do R&D in at least one of three specified areas: health; agriculture and aquaculture; and industrial production, technologies and energy.

Alvaro Ossa said that the main advantage of the new technology transfer hubs is that they promote collaboration – they will increase the critical mass of Chilean technologies and support their transfer and licensing. According to provisional figures for 2014, universities execute slightly more than half of R&D in Chile, mainly with funding from the government. University expenditure in R&D amounts to 9% of the country’s total.

“We will be able to share with the other hub members of the Know Hub the technology transfer and innovation experience accumulated by the Catholic University over the last decade, especially to those universities and institutions that are just getting under way,” he told University World News.

Claudina Uribe, director of innovation and technology transfer of Universidad de La Frontera, or UFRO, located in the southern city of Temuco, explained the benefits the university expects from the hub project.

“The HubTec project, of which we are part, will provide us with capabilities and specialists in transferring more complex applied science technologies being developed in the university. For a small university such as ours, doing this by ourselves is not only difficult but expensive,” she said.

“This associative project will enable connections to be established among those associated to the project, both in the area of R&D as well with the industrial sector and to exchange and complement know-how so as to develop high-impact national and international projects.”

“Equally, UFRO academics and researchers will have the chance to take part in technology transfer training programmes and thus fulfil our aim to disseminate the research and innovation developed in-house, not only through scientific papers but to apply it to society too,” Uribe added.