Industry-Sponsored Research Week
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IP concerns shouldn’t be a deal breaker in open innovation partnerships

By David Schwartz
Published: July 11th, 2017

Researchers can rest assured that corporate sponsors’ increasing embrace of open innovation (OI) is not a ploy to steal their intellectual property. Indeed, both academia and industry emphasize that what takes place under multi-institution collaborations flying the OI flag is operationally similar to traditional university inquiry — because “open innovation” is essentially the way academic researchers have operated all along.

For industry, though, OI does represent real change: an up-front effort to expand innovation pipelines. All academia needs to do, both sides stress, is relax a little about the IP aspect and approach OI with an open mind.

It isn’t new, but its growing popularity among industry is. Basically, OI refers to companies looking outside their own R&D labs to see what other innovators are up to; if external entities have what they’re looking for, as research universities often do, the two sides work together to develop the innovation. For large companies with multi-pronged, dense development operations, many universities may be involved — indeed, some OI collaborations number in the hundreds — each sharing information with the company or companies and with each other.

“The interesting thing about these,” says Jon Soderstrom, PhD, managing director at the Yale University Office of Cooperative Research, “is, because of changes in the patent laws from the America Invents Act and recent court decisions on the level of data needed to get a valid claim, a lot of this research is not patentable anyway.” He adds: “Truly, knowledge is being created, but the real invention is going to occur later, ‘in industry,’ as opposed to ‘in the university.’ We supply the basic science. The invention, the reduction to practice as a novel and useful product, often happens later, and may be the subject of a sponsored research agreement.”

Marta Piñeiro-Núñez, PhD, executive director of the Open Innovation Drug Discovery program at Eli Lilly and Co., emphasizes that any university-created IP is safe when the collaborations are properly structured. “Our contracts spell out a major principle: Innovators retain ownership of their IP,” she says. “We get to access OI collaborators’ ideas to evaluate or test them to see if there’s interest for Lilly. If not, the ideas go right back to the innovators, fully owned by them” — including any results generated from the research conducted with Lilly. “We don’t own the IP,” she stresses. “We provide all of the development capabilities at risk.” If Lilly isn’t interested, she adds, “we hope the data benefits the researcher, and that he or she publishes and successfully shops the invention around.”

Piñeiro-Núñez says the success of OI collaborations depends largely on establishing trust-based relationships. Lilly’s OIDD is a web-based platform, and program participants now number more than 700 individual investigators, she explains, but “the human component is still tangible. It’s very much like when you friend somebody on Facebook. You’ve got to trust who you’re friending. There’s quite a bit of that old-fashioned trust at play here.”

She says Lilly recognized the need to facilitate researcher trust right away. “When we started to talk to external parties, [skepticism among researchers] was a concern,” she reports. “They said, ‘What is Lilly going to do with my stuff? Why should I trust you?’” So she designed the OIDD program with “a lot of transparency. We maintain clear lines of communication, and we explain very plainly how information is used.” Did Lilly do enough? University participation in the OIDD program speaks for itself, she says.

A detailed article on the growth of open innovation partnerships between industry and universities appears in the July issue of Industry-Sponsored Research Management. To get the full article and subscribe at the introductory price of just $297 (a $100 savings), CLICK HERE.


  • IP concerns shouldn’t be a deal breaker in open innovation partnerships.
  • Sponsors, research managers encouraged to consider incentives for data reproducibility.
  • UGA’s strategies bring progress in goal to boost industry sponsorships.
  • Philips, Pitt collaboration features internships, open innovation.
  • Chicago’s new Connectory will facilitate research deals with IoT focus.
  • Industry sponsors a focus of Penn State’s new ‘industryXchange’ series.


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