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University-Industry Engagement Week

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Open innovation effort creates ‘patent-free playground’ to spur research

Declaring itself “out of the rat race” — and characterizing current technology commercialization methods as “protectionist” and essentially broken — Denmark’s Aarhus University, several other schools, and a handful of companies there have agreed to collaborate on “industrially relevant research” without the pressure of patents.

Basic research is paid for by the universities and company donations, and all the intellectual property that’s created is available to the public without restrictions. A company that wants to take a technology further can then sponsor applied research at a university — and patent those results for future commercialization.

Schools in the U.S. and elsewhere could set up similar systems for universities and industry sponsors, the Danish leaders note — or could simply join their party and post research results on the Open Science platform, too.

A grand experiment in open innovation, the platform allows university researchers and companies to create fundamental new knowledge that is made available to everyone — and not one of them can patent it. The first focus of the initiative is on smart materials and initially covers 20 small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) — including ECCO, LEGO, VELUX, Vestas, Grundfos, SP Group and Terma – as well as researchers in the chemistry, physics and engineering departments at Aarhus and, eventually, all the other universities in Denmark. It’s called SPOMAN — for “Smart Polymer Materials and Nano-Composites.”

The participants call it a “patent-free playground,” noting that industrial and academic researchers, many of whom are students, can experiment with little risk — a key drawing card for SMEs, which often lack significant experience in research-based development. This way, they have free access to the latest university results. “Right now,” Conradsen explains, “the research is done on existing grants that the individual research groups have secured independently of the platform, and they opt to carry out projects in an open science set-up. Or the research could be done as student projects — financed through basic university funds and voluntary company contributions.”

The initiative is designed to facilitate industry-sponsored research. If a company is interested in something detailed on the Open Science platform, it can then sponsor additional research, with exclusive access to the IP created as it does – which would then be patentable for use in developing commercializable products. “That’s the idea,” Conradsen says. “That would give industrial partners both a chance to mature the technology to the point of commercialization and exclusive IP on a specific application of the open results or the open technology. And we would get a stream of revenue for our research.”

A detailed article on the open innovation platform appears in the November issue of Industry-Sponsored Research Management. To subscribe and access the full article – plus receive a $100 discount on the subscription price – CLICK HERE.

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week