The Way I See It… by Michael C. Volker
I.P. should mean “Interactive Process”
Intellectual property (IP) is what drives an advanced technology company. Indeed, companies are launched in the first instance because their founders had a vision for a better mousetrap.
However, as tech companies grow and evolve, they shift their focus from research and development to sales and marketing. As the emphasis on bottom line performance increases, they tend to spend less on R&D. While this may look financially good in the short term, it could lead to failure in the future.
Technology companies need to figure out how they can do more – not less – R&D in order to remain competitive and avoid being eclipsed by yet another spin-off with a better idea or by an established player with a strong R&D program.
One way of doing this is to tap into the huge R&D base that we, the country’s taxpayers, are investing in. The largest obvious source for this is our universities. I never cease to be amazed by the magnitude of this resource and our failure to take advantage of it. Federal expenditures for FY04-05 are slated to be $8.5 billion, a 7% increase over last year. Last year, the higher education sector performed $6.9 billion in R&D, out of a national total, including business, of $20.8 billion.
With this increased investment in
the country’s research establishments, the new federal buzzword is
Most research establishments now boast that they’ve set up technology transfer offices (TTOs) or university-industry liaison offices (UILOs). Their primary function is to commercialize research either through licensing or by creating new spin-off companies. In general, it’s pushing new know-how out into the marketplace.
contrast, tech transfer offices in the
Working with researchers may, to a certain extent, also help the smaller companies access external funding, either as government grants or project funding. When entrepreneurs look at the dollars that are being poured into certain research projects, they must drool at the thought of being able to benefit from some of that investment.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) with its $800 million budget encourages company and academic entrepreneurs to work together and it recognizes successful results through its annual Synergy Awards. It’s a splendid way for companies to perform R&D without having to pay for it!
The way I see it, successful technology companies are those that figure out how to develop and enhance their intellectual property through an on-going interactive process with our tax-funded university researchers. Maybe it’s time to make an appointment with a few UILOs.
Michael Volker is a high technology entrepreneur and director of