You can publish the details of your discovery and let other people develop it. Or you can patent it. If you patent it, you have two options. One is to license it to companies and let them pay to use it in their products. Alas, there’s not enough industry in Canada to absorb every new technology produced in our universities. Many academic researchers go for the second option. They create their own companies – termed spin-offs – and develop their own products.
This is not easy. First, a technology developed in a campus lab is usually in a primitive state. It has to be refined – made much more efficient and user-friendly. Second, since all modern commercial products are actually groups of technologies, you need to find the right companion technologies for the new one. Third, it’s nearly impossible to predict the future course of a new technology because there’s always the unexpected.
This is why SFU in 1986 set up the University/Industry Liaison Office (UILO) and staffed it with experienced experts in marketing, financing, patenting, intellectual property issues, and business management. They help SFU researchers navigate the complexities of moving a technology from a campus laboratory to an industry setting, either by licensing it to others or by creating their own spin-off company.
To date, SFU has spun off 69 companies and signed 60 licenses.