As explained in our first year report, a strategic goal for this second year is the design and implementation of an exploitation strategy of our research activities, with the objective to increase their impact in scientific, technological, economical, and social terms.
The existing exploitation models are still very much focused on (only) its commercial exploitation (direct or in relation with companies) and based on a linear model, with the academics as the single creators of new knowledge and the companies as the single recipients. Often not even considering the involvement, at the university, of research staff or students. The traditional exploitation models are no longer sufficient to capture the complexity of the transfer process in practice (including all its informal mechanisms), and may not be giving the needed support to all those activities that do not match the linear traditional process. The article
S. R. Bradley, C. S. Hayter and A. N. Link. 2013. “Models and Methods of University Technology Transfer.” working paper, Univ. of North Carolina at Greensboro.
provides a valuable review of the current situation and potential alternatives. It analyses in detail issues like:
the role of Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs), which have significantly grown in number of staff in our environment in the past years, including aspects such as 1) the difficulties in practice to enforce internal processes such as invention disclosure; 2) the availability of the expertise needed in a wide range of scientific fields and markets; or 3) the lack of alternatives to the TTO model for those activities not adequate for it. In addition, little evaluation about the cost / benefit of TTOs takes place
the focus of intellectual property as an end and not a tool (with a strong emphasis on patents, even as a measure of a university’s technological productivity)
the embryonic nature of most university inventions, requiring additional resources to fill this exploitation gap, and causing that many inventions fail in this “binary” process if they do not fully match with it (but not promoting alternative actions which may promote their later use and, subsequently, higher impact)
the complexities to generate a dynamic spinoff sector, unless a sophisticated technological and financial context is available (effective incubators, seed funds, etc)
the fact that, if the organisational model is inflexible, the staff actually circumvents the formal tech transfer models, or gets discouraged to enter in their model (if the costs for interaction outweigh the benefits), and the evidence that it is the department’s culture, and not the processes, what becomes critical to promote it.
The exploitation strategy defined in the María de Maeztu Strategic Research program aims at being more ambitious, with a broader view on exploitation that puts an additional focus on issues like openness (aligned with the EU strategy Open Innovation, Open Science, Open to the World), the notion of entrepreneurial universities and the own financial sustainability for these activities.
As a starting point, and taking the information from the UPF Knowledge Portal http://knowledge.upf.edu/, this is a picture of the tech transfer situation of our department:
Patents: 8 active patents (owned by UPF, several more patents exist with DTIC-UPF members as authors, but owned by external organisations)
Technologies being licenced:
On licensing: UPF - Licensing of software results of R&D projects. Licensing Toolkit
Software at the MdM web https://www.upf.edu/web/mdm-dtic/software
Recent valorisation projects:
Industrial PhD programs:
TECNIO accreditations: GTI, MTG
TECNIO Candidates: SPECS, TALN, BCN MedTech
THE FOCUS OF THE PROGRAM
In addition to the support of the traditional technology and knowledge transfer mechanisms that have generated the results described above (and which will continue to be supported), the María de Maeztu Strategic Research Program aims at contributing to bidirectional transfer models aligned with the Open Science and Open Innovation movements. If we want to facilitate the conversion of research results into economic value, innovation ecosystems should be created by integrating all relevant stakeholders. In order to properly carry out our research and education goals, it is important to be active partners in real innovation ecosystems. Apart from doing good research, we want to develop and maintain technologies and services that by themselves have socio-economic value and we want to be close to our users.
A relevant aspect is the need to develop alternative financial models that make our activities sustainable. Some aspects to take into account:
Funding from traditional technology transfer: While spin-offs provide a high social and economical general benefit, their impact in the department in the mid-term is very low. When an external company is created, it “resets” the internal knowledge (technology and people) portfolio. In practical and internal terms, those processes may result in a weaker department. And the current reality is that the incomes generated by traditional technology transfer (such as royalties, licences, etc) are marginal. This line of work, by itself, results insufficient for a long-term strategy as a department.
Funding Open Science - Services and Philanthropy: A critical aspect to support Open Science projects as the ones highlighted above is their financial sustainability. It is necessary to develop alternative models that fund those activities, including both the provision of services and the philanthropic support by external entities. According to the article
Anne Q. Hoy, Philanthropy Plays Increasing Role in Advancing Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, (2016).
the role philanthropy is playing in the US academic research is growing steadily, with “funding raised by universities and research institutions represented 22.4% of the research and development funding for higher education in 2014, up from the 8.4% share that institutions covered in 1965”. Philanthropy is however, a rare phenomenon in our context. UPF has recently started a dedicated office for these purposes (UPFund) and in the María de Maeztu program we have started the external sponsorship of the gender & ICT activities, with over 20KEUR obtained during 2016. It is an objective to increase by at least an order of magnitude the current figures.
Designing business models for research groups: In general, the practice of designing mid-term business models that make activities (teaching, research, outreach, etc) sustainable, with links across the varied potential sources (own funds for staff and / or teaching and research, competitive funds, etc), is not usual in academia.
Alternative profiles: In a department such as ours, the role of software developers is increasingly critical. However, while the roles associated to management in TTOs aimed at supporting transfer have been finding a place in academia, software developers do not have a formal career development path in it.
During 2017 we will close and implement a specific strategy to promote the most promising mid-term exploitation plans for the ongoing María de Maeztu projects (progress will be shared in this web page), building on already started initiatives and taking into account the issues described above (especially their sustainability beyond the funds provided by the MdM program). Some identified candidates:
Freesound.org: Freesound is consolidated as the leading international site for sound sharing under CC licences (see blog post on impact in 2016, with over 150 million page views). During 2017 we will work to reinforce its sustainability and to promote Freesound (see blog post) as a site to support the creative industries that use sounds in their productions.
Bioimaging tools: in the context of the NEUBIAS network, we are contributing to the creation of a site for the community for the sharing of tools, resources and datasets. The definition and implementation of the sustainability model for such services is of critical importance. The recent presentation of Rocket app, a web platform allowing user-friendly interface for sharing of data and benchmarking of algorithms, with a repository of biomedical data, a computational infrastructure to execute algorithms in the Cloud, and statistical tools to interpret results, has generated great interest and has strong potential in contexts such as a collaborative data manager, or as a crowdsourced biomage analysis tool builder.
Learning Design: the Integrated Learning Design Environment (ILDE) enables the modelling and sharing of learning designs, already used by a number of institutions and learning groups worldwide. ILDE is a Community Environment that integrates a number of learning design conceptualization, authoring and implementation tools. In the context of the Educational Data Science project, the further development of ILDE and analytics tools is expected to reach a level of development suitable for valorisation and exploitation.
NLP tools for scientific analysis and easy reading: over the past years, a number of technologies for summarisation and text mining have been developed and integrated in tools such as SUMMA and the Dr. Inventor Text Mining Framework, with a strong potential, both in “standard” exploitation models (such as spin-off creation) and in open science scenarios.
In the following weeks, and together with the presentation of progress by several of the MdM projects as part of the assessment of the program, a call to identify additional potential candidates and work on their future plans will be issued.