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Five steps toward commercialization for university researchers

By David Schwartz
Published: November 9th, 2011

For researchers working in technical fields, inventions are to be expected, Helge Seetzen writes on The Tech Entrepreneurship Blog. Unfortunately, many university inventors receive little, if any, training on what to do once they have an invention on their hands. Here’s Seetzen’s quick overview of key steps for inventors to transform their ideas into commercial solutions. 

Step One: Understand the problem you are solving. Few inventions are truly novel visions of the world. Usually, they are combinations of known ideas that, together, solve a new problem. Understanding the problem is 90% of the invention battle. Understanding the problem also helps you to articulate market applications for your invention and gives you a mechanism to compare your solution to alternatives.

Questions to ask: Has anyone been down this road before? What challenges have they faced? How does your technology fit in with existing technologies and technology needs?Above all, what information or proofs do you need to be sure that this technology can actually work?

Step Two: Build a relationship with your TTO. Like companies, most universities have some claim to the IP created either by faculty or students using their resources. The mandate of a university TTO is to manage this IP and facilitate the technology transfer process for its inventors. Understand your university’s IP policies, and take full advantage of the TTO’s services.

Questions to ask: What is my university’s IP Policy? Who, when, and how should I submit a research disclosure? What services does the TTO office offer?

Step Three: Have an IP strategy. The more fully developed your idea is, the easier it will be to sell. University inventors typically look to develop at least some patent protection before progressing to the commercialization stage. As a general rule, any disclosure — even a quick discussion at a café — can severely limit your patenting options, so think through your engagements in advance. This isn’t a reason not to collaborate with other researchers. Just be clear about who will have a stake in the resulting IP and create some basic structure for your relationship to cover the IP aspects.

Questions to ask: Who are the key collaborators for the project? What legal relationships do they have with your university? Does everybody understand the difference between collaboration on publications (everybody is a co-author) and patents (only those who have made inventive contributions are inventors)?

Step Four: Protect your invention. Your research will become an invention when a definite idea has been conceived and translated into a practical application — a prototype is not required but is helpful. University tech transfer typically involves the sale or licensing of patent rights. A patent protects your ability to control who can and cannot use or profit from your invention. If you are not interested in personally profiting from your invention, it can still be important to patent. Without a patent, companies are unlikely to make that development investment because there will generally be no potential for financial return on their investment.

Questions to ask: Is open publication or patent protection the best course for your technology?

Step Five: Connect the dots. The idea of sales and marketing may seem foreign to a lot of university inventors, but you’ve likely been doing this all along. Instead of convincing funders that your research will result in valuable products or outcomes, you need to convince investors that some of the value you intended to create really exists. Remember that research you did on the technology landscape? You can use it to identify companies or investors who may be interested in your technology. You also need to evaluate your invention before approaching business partners, considering your prototype’s availability and stability, project documentation, and basic aspects of business and marketing (e.g. market assessments). At this point, you are ready to plunge in the next phase of commercialization. Gather a team, build a product, and hit the road.

Source: The Tech Entrepreneurship Blog

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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