Archive for 'Corporate – University Research'
Michael D. Moberly March 24, 2014 ‘A long form blog where attention span really matters’.
Two points for context…
First, to the readers of this blog I suspect there is no need to elaborate on the reality that growing percentages of the content of today’s products and/or services consist of attractive technological inputs and features that provide consumer conveniences and elevate market space competitiveness. And agreed, most, if not all of such inputs – features are rooted in intangible assets, particularly intellectual and structural capital.
Second, it’s certainly no secret that there are few (company) business models that specifically reflect or encompass a desire to assume the costs and risks associated with incurring the levels of vertical – horizontal integration necessary to single-handedly achieve exclusive mastery and ownership of each technology and skill set required to develop, manufacture, market, and sell products and/or services to be housed under a single (corporate) roof.
This readers, sets the context for this post!
SME’s and SMM’s can be sources of complimentary intellectual and structural capital…
Rooted in my 20+ years in academia and many years of subsequent consultancy practice directed almost exclusively to serving small and midsize companies, ala SME’s and SMM’s, I believe, anecdotally of course, that corporations, universities, and their respective R&D and technology transfer offices, and (faculty) researchers themselves, are inclined to be receptive to pursuing (research) relationships, partnerships, and/or alliances within their respective tier, i.e., universities designated as a Carnegie I or II research institutions or conversely, with Fortune 1000 companies. For various reasons, SME’s and SMM’s, aside from technology exclusive companies, are seldom or certainly infrequently recognized as originators and/or contributors of useable (cutting edge) intellectual or structural capital sufficient to compliment or convert university’s basic research into the highly sought after path towards commercialization.
So, for readers who may still be thinking this is merely another piece about ‘startups’ and/or university-based spinoff’s, I have failed to bring clarity to my point. My position is this; many, if not most SME’s and SMM’s develop, own, and harbor a substantial amount of intellectual and structural capital which is not nearly as routinely or aggressively sought or tapped into as is warranted or at the level many of their Fortune 1000 ‘first cousin’ competitors experience.
Not so flatteringly, my years of experience in academia, there are varying levels of assumed self-importance and even superiority some universities express through their culture, key administrators, faculty, and technology transfer units which variously inhibits some from engaging the unacknowledged and untapped intangibles embedded in SME’s and SMM’s as collaborative supplements to emerging (university-based) research.
Yes, I am a strong advocate for university research leadership to moderate their culture and adjust and broaden their strategic research practices to encourage and allow monitoring the SME and SMM environment. One important product of which is identifying particularly effective SME’s and SMM’s whose success originates solely from their intangibles, i.e., intellectual and structural capital particularly, much of which in my experience, can be aligned with specific research interests and/or initiatives of a university.
Two way vs. one way transfer of intangibles…
What I am referring to is certainly not a mere one-way ticket of knowledge transfer from SME’s and SMM’s to academia, rather as open ended round-trip tickets for…
- knowledge (intellectual, structural capital) collaboration and transfer
- intended to forge strategic relationships to respectfully exploit and advance relevant intangibles and competitive advantages, and
- capture knowledge spillovers that otherwise would likely be lost.
University’s as stand alone ‘ivory towers’…
The time-honored vision of university’s being stand alone ‘ivory towers’ removed from worldly concerns and external influences is now much more myth than reality, at least in my view. That’s largely the result of legislation and other initiatives introduced during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s during which a significant shift in the academic research community began whereby researchers and scientists were now being encouraged to work more closely (collaborate) with private sector interests. One reason of course was to speed the transfer – commercialization of ideas from academia to the marketplace.. (The above was inspired by my extensive conversations with the Congressional Research Office researcher and author of ‘Is Science For Sale?: Transferring Technology From Universities To Foreign Corporations. Report by the Committee on Government Operations.October 16, 1992. House Report 102-1052)
One consequence of this heightened motivation and receptivity to negotiate external collaborations was that a growing number of colleges and universities, through their respective licensing and technology transfer units, realized and were provided with legitimate pathways and motivations to become more entrepreneurially oriented, and thus externally competitive.
In other words, university research administrators and faculty researchers were, with some rapidity, becoming more receptive to considering new and/or distinctive opportunities and platforms for collaboration with private sector entities. These were also recognized as additional means to seek and secure financial support for continuing (on-going) research and their related activities. There is little doubt such receptivity was prompted and/or at least influenced by a second realization, which is the potential commercial value and revenue generation (royalty) potential which could evolve from the commercialization of internally or collaboratively generated inventions or ‘breakthroughs’.
Broadly speaking, university inclinations to be more open and receptive to exploring – pursuing external (contractual) alliances or consortiums with private sector entities are now commonplace. In fact, for numerous institutions, a primary responsibility of the university technology transfer director’s is to do just that. Too, a rather obvious benefit to both parties is that such collaborative arrangements are acknowledged as a relatively quick, accepted, and legitimate (two-way) pipeline to access specific bases of knowledge and expertise, i.e., intellectual and structural capital to complement a company’s existing competencies related to the development of future products and services.
It would behoove university research administrators and technology transfer directors to keep a keen eye on (monitor) particular SME’s and SMM’s which are producing value laden intangible assets which in many instances, paths for application and commercialization have already been demonstrated. But, with collaboration and the infusion of additional research products, even greater mutually beneficial commercialization opportunities can emerge.
Start-Up Success: The Importance of Identifying, Managing, and Safeguarding Enabling Intangible Assets!
Michael D. Moberly August 27, 2012
For start-ups, the launch of their first product is an important event because it brings a new venture closer to growth, profitability, and financial independence, says Ans Heirman and Bart Clarysse formerly of Ghent University and now with Scientific Commons, in their paper ‘Do Intangible Assets at Start-Up Matter for Innovation Speed?’ Of course, my answer to that question is unequivocally yes!
Innovation speed is also relevant to startups insofar as sustaining and attracting additional (new) investment. But, an increasingly crucial factor affecting the speed which start-ups can successfully launch their innovation and enter the market space, is by recognizing, protecting, and managing the enabling (ancillary – complimentary) intangible assets integral to every innovation.
Unfortunately, in far too many instances, start-up innovators, i.e., university-based or independent, are frequently overly focused on filing – being issued a patent and tend to discount and/or overlook the equally valuable (enabling) intangible assets that routinely serve as the underlying foundation to any spin-off company’s innovation and (new product) launch. For startups, it’s certainly not unusual for 90+% of their sources of (company) value, revenue, and ‘building blocks’ for growth and sustainability to reside in – evolve directly from intangible assets.
Even though Heirman and Clarysse’ paper was published in 2004, I find it still very relevant insofar as making a convincing case that antecedents (speed) to innovation lie in the recognition, management, and safeguarding of key intangible assets, particularly, in my view, intellectual, relationship, and structural capital.
Heirman and Clarysse also make a very favorable case that other equally important intangible assets, referred to as pre-founding R&D efforts, e.g., team tenure, the experience level of the start-ups’ founders and/or management teams, and collaborations with third parties, are also important contributors to innovation speed. To test and test this notion, Heirman and Clarysse collected a dataset on 99 research-based start-ups (RBSUs) and applied an event-history approach.
Experienced entrepreneurs, they conclude, understand that innovation speed is important for many reasons, key among them are to…
• acquire early investment to achieve more (greater) financial independence,
• achieve broader external visibility and legitimacy as quickly as possible,
• establish competitive advantages as early as possible.
Both Heirman and Clarysse acknowledge however, that innovation (R&D development) cycles can vary rather widely based on the number and phases of product development, along with specialized technologies that required. Being an intangible asset advocate and strategist no surprise here.
This giving additional credence to the view that identifying individual and/or inter-connected clusters of intangible assets that emerge as ancillary and complimentary enablers of RBSUs, should not be dismissed, overlooked, or neglected as potential (additional) sources of value, revenue, and ‘building blocks’ for future (distinct, stand alone) innovations.
Ultimately Heirman and Clarysse found that RBSUs differ with respect their starting conditions, for example…
- start-ups which are further in their product development cycle (at founding) will likely launch their initial innovation (product) faster.
- software and other firms that require a beta-version (test) will quite naturally experience slower product launch times.
- experience of startup founders and management team tenure can facilitate (produce) faster product launch times.
- a startups’ alliance with other firms does not significantly (favorably) affect innovation speed.
- startups which collaborate with universities (perhaps as a spin-off, etc.) generally lead to longer innovation development and launch times.
It’s worth noting again, for startups, it’s not unusual for 90+% of their value as a company, sources of revenue, and ‘building blocks’ for growth and sustainability to reside in – evolve directly from intangible assets. So, it’s easy to understand the importance of identifying, managing, and safeguarding enabling intangible assets!
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Michael D. Moberly December 13, 2011
A ‘research liaison’ should contribute to corporate – university (sponsored) research projects by: sustaining (protecting and preserving) unencumbered control, use, ownership and monitoring the value of both parties’ investments, i.e., the projected stream of intangible assets, IP, competitive advantages, and (proprietary) know how evolving from the research.
Unfortunately, there’s a fairly long trail of melodramatic intrusions in academic research – scientific processes with an equally long trail of scientists and universities interpreting those initiatives as unwarranted and disrespectful attempts at oversight and management of university-based research. When handled poorly or heavy-handedly such initiatives:
- routinely collide with the time honored principles of open scientific communication and academic freedom, and
- are quick to spark emotional, polarizing, and project stifling debates in academic units and research labs, especially those unaccustomed to the necessity and realities of properly safeguarding information (research work products).
An unfortunate, but very true reality is however those principles (academic freedom, open scientific communication) are routinely being exploited, outpaced, circumvented, and undermined today by:
- very determined and extraordinarily sophisticated and predatorial data mining and global business-competitor intelligence operations, and
- the inevitable challenges posed by ’trusted insiders’.
When either taint a research process, an unwelcomed outcome for both the university and corporate sponsor is that time, resources, and investment in research and its valuable products’, in the form of intangible assets, knowhow and competitive advantages, are compromised, relinquished, or lost. These, in turn, will usually prompt an array of costly, time consuming, and embarrassing challenges and disputes, any one of which can adversely affect:
- the corporate sponsor in terms of not receiving the projected benefits and competitive advantages initially conceived when the research partnership was formed, and certainly
- the universities’ image, reputation, and goodwill as a prospective ’research partner’.
Necessarily then, the role-responsibility for a ‘research liaison’ (among other things) is to:
- serve as an enabler and facilitator to research collaborations, partnerships, and processes
- provide momentum to the administrative processes associated with executing university-corporate research partnerships, and
- build and strengthen bridges between researchers, scientists and corporate research sponsors through respectful and knowledgeable dialogue to elevate receptivity of research units’ culture to safeguarding and preserving the value of intangible-information based assets and intellectual capital in ways that simultaneously respect academic research traditions and the principles of the Bayh-Dole Act.
Today, in the nanosecond world of at will global communication and collaboration, decisions about when, where, and the circumstances in which research work products are disseminated have become more blurred and certainly, more risky!
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University Spin Off Companies: Better Management and Stewardship Of Intangibles Can Speed Up The Commercialization Process?
Michael D. Moberly November 22, 2011
Intuitively, the speed which a (university-based) spin-off company can deliver its invention is a critical factor to its overall success and attractivity for (continued, future) investment. The question presented here is, can consistent stewardship, oversight, and management of the ancillary-complimentary intangible assets which are integral by-products to faculty researcher inventions make the process quicker?
A quick, but obviously biased, answer is an unequivocal yes!
More convincingly though, in a still relevant study produced by Ans Heirman and Bart Clarysse formerly of Ghent University and now with ScientificCommons, put forth the notion in their paper titled ‘Do Intangible Assets at Start-Up Matter for Innovation Speed?’
In their paper, the authors found that intangible assets such as:
• start-up management team and founder experience, tenure, routines, and cross-functionality
• alliance and/or collaboration agreements with other relevant parties and organizations
…combine to serve as important and contributing factors to innovation speed in terms of execution.
Experienced entrepreneurs know innovation speed, i.e., time to market for new product launches is important for many reasons, key among them are to gain:
• early investment to achieve more (greater) financial independence,
• broader external visibility and legitimacy as quickly as possible,
• early competitive advantages, i.e., market position and possibly market share.
The researchers in the aforementioned study acknowledge innovation/development cycles can vary relative to, among other things, phases of product development tasks and phases, and the technologies required, etc., among other variables.
Again, no surprise here, other than making the argument once again, that identifying individual and/or inter-connected clusters of intangible assets that frequently emerge as ancillary and complimentary by-products of faculty research and innovation should not be dismissed, overlooked, or neglected as potential (and additional) sources of value, revenue, and literally potential ‘building blocks’ to compliment (future) innovation.
Michael D. Moberly November 21, 2011
Within the university research community, there remain spirited and polarizing debates about the openness in which research is conducted, that is, the freedom and ability of faculty researchers to disseminate, communicate, collaborate, and publish at will, which incidentally, have long been recognized as the hallmarks of university-based research.
On one side of that debate stand those who favor retaining the long legitimated hallmarks of academic freedom. On the other side of the debate stand those who encourage safeguards be put in place to limit, set parameters for, if not prohibit some of the at will or discretionary freedoms conveyed in the former view.
There’s nothing particularly new about these opposing views. They have been espoused in essentially the same context since the 16th century. Experience suggests there is little middle ground on which to frame a consensus, bar one. That is, to dispassionately factor into the university-corporate research protection equation the realities embedded in today’s hyper-competitive, predatorial, and winner-take-all global R&D environment.
This can be particularly interesting in instances in which faculty generated research and/or an inventions produce special insights and findings that lead to valuable (business) competitive advantages that may extend not just to the primary corporate (research) sponsor, but eventually to other companies in that industry sector.
So, a key question for corporate – university research collaborations are the above realities sufficiently persuasive to ensure the inclusion of information asset safeguards to mitigate university generated data/research be overly vulnerable to theft, infringement, or compromise stemming primarily from sophisticated state sponsored global business intelligence collection operations.
These are acts which, if even reasonably successful will most certainly dilute if not irrevocably impair the research’ strategic value to the inventor and research sponsor. It can also allow competitors (globally) to gain substantial advance insights to permit them to achieve economic, competitive, and market entry advantages.
Walk me through-a-day-in-the-life of university research…An analogy may be useful as a potential starting point to advance this principled tug-of-war. For example, when company representatives go before a venture capital firm to seek funding, one of the series of questions (scenarios) a venture capitalist (VC) will invariably pose to obtain a better sense of the usefulness and viability of the product or service being pitched. Routinely, they will ask a company representative to ’walk them through’ a-day-in-the-life of a (target market) company in which the product or service being pitched is not currently in use.
The VC’s follow-up questions will then be framed as:
• is there a noticeable difference?
• will the company be better off?
• if so, what and how will those differences manifest and are they exploitable insofar as delivering economic and/or competitive advantages to benefit the company?, i.e., to become more profitable?, gain/retain customers?, create efficiencies?, improve morale?, etc.
It’s conceivable that a comparable, but objective and dispassionate ’walk me through a day in the life’ approach would be useful to advance the time honored academic freedom debate about faculty generated research and inventions.
Key (objective) questions that could be posed then to a faculty researcher such as:
• consider their ability to sustain unchallenged control, use, ownership, and value of their invention throughout its value-life cycle
• what does the researcher, research sponsor, and the university consider to be minimum foundation(s) for retaining viable options for (future) licensing and/or technology transfer?
Michael D. Moberly March 11, 2010
Within the university research community, there remain spirited and polarizing debates about the openness in which research is conducted, that is, the freedom and ability of researchers to disseminate, communicate, collaborate, and publish at will, which incidentally, have long been recognized as the hallmarks of university-based research.
On one side of that debate stand those who favor retaining those legitimate hallmarks of academic freedom, while on the other side of that debate stand those who encourage safeguards be put in place to limit, set parameters for, if not prohibit some of the at will – discretionary freedoms conveyed in the former view, particularly in instances in which the research will likely produce special insights, outcomes, and findings that potentially carry significant (business) competitive advantages that may extend not just to the primary corporate (research) sponsor, but eventually to other U.S. companies and organizations in that sector.
There’s nothing particularly new about these diametrically opposing views, as they have existed in essentially the same format since the 16th century. Regardless, whichever side of this argument one may be inclined to embrace, my experience in this arena suggests there is little middle ground on which to frame – reach consensus, bar one. That is, the opportunity to objectively and dispassionately factor into the university-corporate research equation the realities embedded in today’s intangible asset based, hyper-competitive, aggressive, increasingly predatorial, and winner-take-all global R&D environment.
So, the question may be, do these (aforementioned) realities support the inclusion of specific safeguards to the university-corporate research equation beyond those that predominantly IT (security) oriented? The objective is to prevent-reduce the vulnerability-probability that the sponsored research will be vulnerable to insider theft, infringement, or the ‘always on’ and incredibly sophisticated global business/competitor intelligence operations. In other words, acts that, if even reasonably successful, will dilute and/or impair the research’ strategic value to its sponsor and/or allow, inadvertently or otherwise, competitors (globally) to gain advance insights that permit them to achieve economic, competitive, and market entry advantages.
Walk me through-a-day-in-the-life of university research…An analogy may be useful as a potential starting point to advance this principled tug-of-war. For example, when company representatives go before a venture capital firm to seek funding, one of the series of questions (scenarios) a VC will invariably pose to obtain a better sense of the usefulness and viability of the product or service being pitched, is to ask a company representative to ‘walk me through’ a-day-in-the-life of a (target market) company in which the product or service is absent. And then ‘walk me through’ a-day-in-the-life of that same company after the product or service becomes operational. The VC’s follow-up questions will then be framed as w I see a difference?, will the company be better off?, if so, what and how will those differences manifest?, and how will those differences be exploitable to benefit the company?, i.e., to become more profitable?, gain/retain customers?, create efficiences?, improve morale?, etc.
It’s not inconceivable that a comparable, but objective and dispassionate ‘walk me through a day in the life’ approach would be useful to advance the time honored debate about university research. Key (objective) questions that could be posed then to researchers/scientists are (1.) consider their ability to sustain unchallenged control, use, ownership, and value of their research throughout its value-life cycle, and (2.) what do they, their university, and research sponsor consider to be minimum foundation(s) for retaining viable options for (future) licensing and/or technology transfer?
(In addition to being an information asset protection specialist, Mr. Moberly remains a consistent researcher and consultant on these matters which began while he was a member of the faculty at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale from 1982-2002.)