The Office of Innovation and Corporate Partnerships is focused on integrating the university’s efforts in technology commercialization, entrepreneurship, and corporate partnerships for sponsored research and education.

two faculty talking in the Bizzell Memorial Library

Category: Researchers

Does my Research Tool have Commercial Value?

I recently saw a headline stating that the research antibodies and reagents market is projected to reach USD 16.1 billion by 2027.  My first thought was WOW, that’s a big number.  My second thought was WHAT A COINCIDENCE, I just had another inquiry from Pharma requesting a license for a cell line.  So here we are with my first contribution to the OICP blog page, how to determine if your research tools might be licensable.

When we think about successfully licensed university innovations, the first thing to come to mind is probably NOT a research reagent.  But if the above projection, which is based on growing demand for personalized medicine, structure-based drug design, proteomics and genomics research, is even partially accurate, perhaps we should?   It is likely that you have created such reagents, perhaps for a specific experiment or to obtain data for a publication or grant proposal.  You may have even tried to find materials from a supplier and ended up making your own because they weren’t available. Obviously not all of these will have commercial potential, and many will not.  So how do you know if your research tool may have commercial potential?

I approach this with four questions:

  • Was it difficult to create? 
  • Would it be useful to others?
  • Has it been published and have others requested it? 
  • Can it be used in drug development or some other commercial process?

As the creator of these materials, you can certainly share them with fellow researchers under a Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) and doing so is integral to the progression of research and is a requirement under some funding agencies.  But if you answered yes to any of the above, and especially if you have multiple requests and/or if commercial entities are reaching out to you, that may a good indicator of commercial potential.  Isn’t that worth exploring? 

A couple of examples of license arrangements for research tools include commercial reagent suppliers and pharmaceutical companies.  Suppliers are interested in providing reagents to the research community; novel antibodies, cell lines, chemicals, enzyme’s, plasmids, proteins, media, etc. can be licensed to these vendors and they in turn are granted permission to provide them for specified uses.  This model can help relieve investigators from supplying their materials to fellow researchers when the burden becomes excessive.  Pharmaceutical companies can look to academia for cell lines and mouse models that are useful in drug discovery and development; they may discover these assets in your publications and published grant applications and may be willing to license them rather than devote time and resources to creating their own.  

And this brings me back to my inquiry from Pharma for the cell line and my reason for the blog.  Did I mention this cell line is one of our most frequently licensed assets?  Did I mention that research tools don’t typically require patent protection in order to be licensed and generate revenue?  Did I mention that the revenue received is shared with you, the inventor, per the University IP policy? 

So, the next time you create a research tool that you think may have commercial value, please do come see us – it IS worth exploring and we look forward to exploring that possibility with you. 

I Didn’t Have This Problem Yesterday

One of the greatest insights into the entrepreneur’s mindset happened to me early in my incubator manager days.  I was doing lunch-and-learns for our clients, prospects, and anyone else who cared to attend.  After a series of these hour-long seminars on things like business planning, marketing, and employment law I noticed that our attendance continued to dwindle weekly.  Boring speakers?  Boring topics?  Most likely.  But we adjusted by adding other value – free lunches, upgrades to the lunches and things like that.  Attendance perked up initially but then again began to dwindle.

Internally generated content was supplemented with frequent and high profile outside guest speakers.  We amped up our own content to give it a broader appeal.  Similar results occurred:  initial upticks in attendance followed by a dwindling in attendance.  It was around this time I put together a really solid lunchtime seminar about managing cash flow.  We marketed it more broadly than usual to prospects and community members and we pushed to get as many of our clients there as possible.  The day came and the seminar went well but, yet again, to a sparse audience.  Terribly frustrating it was!

The day after the cash flow seminar I was out roaming the hallways chatting with clients and incubator tenants when I heard my name called from a very familiar voice.  Dmitry!  My favorite Bulgarian physicist who had a startup that was commercializing a revolutionary medical imaging technology.  In his deeply accented baritone, he asked if I had a few minutes to discuss an urgent and critical issue he was facing.  Of course, I replied, that’s I’m here for.  Let’s go into the conference room to use the whiteboard.  He then told me of a cash problem he was facing – a relatively common problem for startups.  He desperately needed some guidance figuring out the best way to quickly get it resolved.  We charted it on the white board but before getting into solutions, I had to ask him this: “Dmitry, this is a relatively common problem and is exactly what I spent an hour on yesterday in the lunch-and-learn on cash flow.  You weren’t there!”

Came the reply: “Of course not, I did not have this problem yesterday.”

Wow!  Insight!  These innovators and scientists that I had the honor of serving were so focused on what was in front of them, so busy with the business and technology at hand, that they didn’t have time to go to a seminar on a topic that wasn’t of immediate value or utility to them.  A topic that was of no interest to them unless they just happened to be experiencing it right now.

It wasn’t that I shouldn’t be scheduling seminars of interesting topics.  I should.  But it was my expectations of the entrepreneurial-minded audience that needed to be changed.  Issues arise for them on a need-to-solve basis.  Solutions without a current problem (e.g., attending a seminar on an obscure topic) are perhaps nice to learn about, but not essential to their day-to-day activity.  In Dmitry’s case, we got the problem solved relatively easily and in a timely manner for him and his company.  The only difference was that the issue occurred a day after the well-intended but obscure seminar provided a solution.  It was of no interest to him.  And perhaps it shouldn’t have been – that was his call. 

Keep the innovator at the center!

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