Can I productize my research findings?
As a scientist, we inadvertently think about publication of our research in research journals. The higher the impact of the journal, the more prestigious the work is considered, and we don’t mind spending a year or more trying to publish in a higher impact journal! But we often fail to think about how much more impactful our research could be if we can actually strive to translate that research into a tangible product, or improve an existing technology/product.
Are there resources on campus that can help you think through whether your work can be productized or add value to companies out there? I will be discussing how you can do so in the following sections:
Start by doing your own research!
As a graduate student or postdoc, you are often an expert in doing the background research on your work. Most of us try to keep ourselves updated with current research anyways. You just need to extend this to industry research. Pick a few companies/industries that are working in a similar area of research as yours, and follow what they are doing.
Dig deeper and follow things like their clinical trials, product development process, annual reports, annual financial reports, etc. Look into not only their successes, but also their failures. If you think your research findings are better than theirs, or could complement the industry findings, think about what you could do to work together with those industries or by starting your own company!
Idea evaluation: Who do we talk to next?
Professors/research advisors - Most of the time, your professors are considered as experts in your area of research, and their opinion is still considered the golden standard in the industry. So, industries try to work with professors through consulting agreements. (This practice of consulting for industries has become more prevalent off late). As a result, the professors are well versed with what is going on in the industries. You could use this to your advantage by requesting them to evaluate the merit in your research and opportunities to work with a company in translating your research to a product or starting a company!
If you are lucky, your professors might help you make those initial introductions to experts in the industry that could assist you in this process. It has been my experience that while talking to these industry experts, you might actually find other uses to your research that you might not have thought of! They might even direct you to get additional data that might make your research findings more valuable.
Of course this means additional work and need for additional funds. But, this validation/suggestion could be the idea/seed for your next grant, whether you continue as a graduate student or a postdoc. You can actually try to see if the industry could support your research to get that extra funding, or at least give you a letter of support, that could add value to the grant proposal.
SBIR/STTR grants are a good way of getting funds for starting companies based on your research findings. Sometimes, universities have “bridge funds” to help you with commercializing your research. You might want to look around for such funding mechanisms.
Intellectual Property Office (IP)/ Technology transfer offices (TTO) - Most universities have an intellectual property office or a technology transfer office that are responsible for patenting the research originating from labs at universities. They are often the bridges that can effectively connect universities to industries.
Once a professor/researcher discloses their research finding to the IP/TTO, these offices evaluate the prior art in your area of research, and file for patents where possible. One of the most important jobs they take up is to identify companies that can actually use the technology developed at universities. As a result, companies looking for new technologies often approach these IP/TTO to license these technologies.
The reason I’m mentioning about IP/TTO is that you could actually approach them for connecting to industry experts, if you are not able to do so through your professors. The licensing offices would be happy to work with you. In the recent times, there has been an increased pressure on technology transfer offices to commercialize the university research. So, added interest and effort from you could actually help both the parties!
****One important thing you always want to keep in mind while talking to industries or anyone outside of the university is to inform the concerned university authorities (mostly TTO). Appropriate protection of the intellectual property is necessary before such talks happen. The TTO will be happy to walk you through the process and also facilitate such talks.
If there is one person who cares more about your research, it is you! So, it becomes your responsibility to take that next step of trying to create an impact by not allowing your work to get lost in a publication or your bound thesis!
Thanks Naresh. Interesting post. I've known a few young scientists who have launched their careers by working with the Tech Transfer Offices at their universities. Great place to get experience, and it can be useful for a company job or a position later in a patent law office,
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum
Hi, I have no idea about this topic, Recent studies and surveys carried out in the area of productization have revealed a lack of
knowledge of the productization process within software companies as the greatest
obstacle in the path of transformation from producing customer-specific solutions to selfdriven product-based business models. Software companies have recognized the
advantages of developing product-based solutions that are reusable, scalable and market
driven, but due to the lack of studies undertaken in the area and to the generic nature of
the transformation process, they do not want to take the risks of a productization process.
Thanks and regards,
Adam Hebrew, Sr. Content Writer @Myassignmenthelp.co.uk
There are a couple of things to be aware of when you look at "productizing" your research. The first thing, and perhaps the most important thing, is that your research is not exactly yours. Nor is it your professor's. The research (except in very rare circumstances) belongs to the university where the research is performed. Before you can even think about turning your research into a tangible product, you would have to get a license from the university. This can be a difficult process, and you would be well advised to have an experienced (and expensive) attorney on your side during this. Depending on the university and your negotiating skills, you may have to come up with a sizeable down payment for the license in order to cover the patent costs that the university has put in. Alternatively, the university may have determined that your development is not worth the patent expense. If you think that it is, you may be able to get them to return the rights to you - in which case you will have to open your wallet to start dealing with patents and patent attorneys - not an inexpensive undertaking.
So - you either get a license or get the intellectual property returned to you, and you have a trust fund that allows you to foot the bill for the patent(s). Then what?
First of all, you will likely have to resign from your post-doc or graduate program - professors in general have little tolerance for grad students or post-docs who are not 100% committed to their research. Second, you will have to form a company to develop that research into a product. Both of these steps are relatively simple - it gets harder - much harder.
Unless you are independently wealthy, you will have to locate a source of capital. You will find this to be very difficult, because as a postdoc or grad student, I would imagine that you have had exactly zero experience in running a company. Investors - whether angel investors or institutional venture capitalists - have a saying that "we bet the jockey, not the horse." That is, they understand that experienced management can make money with a less-than-optimal technology, while inexperienced management could goof up the sure cure for cancer.
I could go on ad infinitum about the issues that you will face, but many of these are covered in an article by Dave Jensen found at https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2011/05/tooling-ive-got-great-idea
Hope this is useful.
The rules for this are very different between countries and within the US between different Universities. For example Sweden has a rule that allows all teachers at Universities to own their innovations. The definition included PhD students. In contrast som Universities in the US have a standardized agreement under which the university will help with filling patents and starting work with the tech transfer office and in return they will take a certain % of the ownership. Typically the innovator will get the complete ownership if the university decides not to pursue a patent.
Other universities dont have any system or standardized agreements but will anyway take 100% of the ownership.
The above notes the fundamentals of getting "ownership" or "license" of the technology to "productize", as the word being used here, as a path to commercialization. (however you want to define commericialization, not always IPO per se).
One imporant aspect not raised yet is the notion of knowing that the technology (i.e. research finding) has a validated "utility" that is then subsequently, commercially "valuable". I.e. there is a market, you can, access that market, and that means your product must address a valued need.
In Pharma, as part of our decision process to take a technlogy forward (a drug), we are thinking both of the "clinical utility" and the "clinical value" - that links: Knowing our Market, and knowing our Market value, and risks for commericialization across the development life cycle. We have all sorts of names for that, but this is what we do.
I have personally seen fails here. One example i have seen, is an R&D group taking a decision just based on epidemologic data (i've seen this) with out understanding "practice" (clinical practice) or how an end customer (in this case patients), moves through a health-system (we call it patient journey), AND, understanding, who will pay and how much (we call that "access and pricing and reimbursement). There was no comprehensive understand of the commercial opportunity and risks and well that was a fail.
I work in teams that doing this just every day (I work on new indications and new assets program development teams as a core member,..in addition to brand teams) and we do this excercise as part of our activities we are continously cross checking our commerical opportunity, re-confirming risks, understanding our market, developing and re-developing our forecasts, as these are feeding into our decision points as well and into the company's portofolio priorities (we use a NPV approach).
So, my recommendation, in addition to securing the IP, make sure one invests in getting a thorough understanding of the market EARLY on. If one is about to start a company, pause, suck it up and hire a Commerical person, invest in Market Research and Business Analystics, they should be able to tell you all your gaps, risks and assumptions you'll have to make and where to invest to understand your market. Make sure you know WHAT you are commericializing, the PURPOSE it will serve in the Market and understand crystal clear WHO will buy and use and see your product as a valued asset. OR the alternative, spend time energy and resources, to end up with something that is "interesting" - yet, no one buys. And that's commericalization Fail.
good luck and don't forget the basics of knowing your "territory" - if you saw the "music man", you'll see the first song in that play is an intrument Sales Rep singing a song on a train about "knowing the territory".
You are entirely correct. My response was not intended to cover all of the issues, and the point about utility is indeed critical.