There are events afoot that are looking at spinning-out research IP, and in Oxfordshire we have Isis Innovation that do this for the university and we have other companies in the UK like The IP Group that build their business model around tapping into these knowledge assets. All universities have ‘tech-transfer’ operations but they never live up to their promise – and its not always the best place to spend time if its innovation that drives your business.
I can see that university IP is an appealing proposition – its codified piece of knowledge – its easy to transfer to industry and we can wrap it up in a legal framework that allows for ‘diligence obligations’ that create a sense of urgency to see it being used, with monies appropriated back to the university.
Sounds good. But its not my ideal form of Open Innovation.
Something I found in my research into Entrepreneurial Open Innovators was that IP is a barrier for most University-Industry partnerships – considered messy by SME’s and at odds with the exploratory entrepreneur that isn’t a fan the contractual approach that IP spin-out requires.
But there are two hats to innovation – or organisational learning – the explorer and the exploiter, and for University IP ‘exploiting’ is the key. You need companies/partners that want to exploit that asset and see the knowledge used in an efficient, purposeful way and extract value in a short time frame. So the ideal partners are ‘industrial exploiters’ – lets have fun and call them “Knowledge Asset Strippers”. They are intent on making a buck – and a portion of that will trickle back to the university.
However, if the “acquirer” learns something more of the market for that IP – don’t expect him to share it back and advance academic learning – unless you have another legal framework where he can appropriate monies back from you… all a bit ‘messy’ and not very ‘open’ and certainly does little for a climate of innovation and collaboration between university and industry. Really its not “Open Innovation” – its just business.
I don’t doubt the value in IP, but I know there is more longer term value in personal ties between university and industry – between people with similar values for learning and innovation – who can see and transform the value in “know-how” with insights flowing in both directions. Universities do want to be seen as being relevant and industry does need access to great talent and so the benefits are mutual – but not contractual..
One thing that makes me chuckle is the marriage analogy for IP acquisition that one Open Innovator entrepreneur used with me when talking about contractually based relationships:
“Its like going on a first date but you bring the divorce lawyer out with you – you want to get to know each other but this guy is intent on talking about who will keep the house…”
Lets face it if you have a house (University IP) you dont want to loose it – bit it doesnt become a home (learning together) until there is a trusting relationship.
There are lots of ‘forms’ of Open Innovation – but as an ‘explorer’ out-licensing certainly isn’t my favourite. Its not the basis for closer industry-university ties – too short term, to exploiting and it will never lead to anything radical.
But that said, if you get the right IP and can see a business model for it the opportunity is blistering. Go exploit!