A recent study has highlighted how ineffectual it is for universities to patent their discoveries. The study shows that the patents do not show a sufficient return on investment to make the technology transfer office of a university worth funding. The Brookings research titled “University Start-Ups: Critical for Improving Technology Transfer” proposes that universities could launch their own start-ups in order to license their patents to these rather than licensing to outside companies for commercial use.
The research points out that it makes more sense for universities to cultivate an atmosphere for the enthusiastic start-up. Or, professors or inventors could start companies based on their research, rather than sending out their patented intellectual property to commercial companies. By doing so, the universities could then have a greater stake in the organizations using their patents, rather than simply collecting royalties and never seeing a real profit. The research highlights three points that are vital for cultivating a start-up-breeding atmosphere:
“- The government should expand funding for the Small Business Technology Transfer program designating funds specifically for university start-ups.
- Congress should authorize a patent use exemption for non-profit research organizations for the purpose of exclusive experimental use.
- The government should create an equity rule for the distribution of funds among universities.”
Of course, at the core of this debate is the dual role of the entrepreneur versus the professor. Should academia leave the commercial side of innovation to entrepreneurs? Or should the balance between moneymaking ideas and practice be fairer to those who come up with the ideas? Naturally, those in favor of patent reform would propose the latter. And, indeed, laws are before Congress that aim to reform the way smaller companies, universities, and start-ups have control over their intellectual property. In the meantime, breeding a start-up culture seems to be the next smart move for universities looking to make the most of their research-driven patents.
As the author of the paper, Walter D. Valdivia says, “Universities cannot do it alone, they operate within a larger innovation ecology and the government can help foster an adequate environment for entrepreneurship.”