Saturday, January 28, 2006

"New Model for Tech Transfer"

Recognizing the revenue-generating potential of licensed technologies, research institutions and universities are beginning to explore new avenues of harnessing the commercial benefits of research.

Inside Higher Ed reports that more institutions are beginnging to form partnerships with corporations and assigning co-ownership rights to technologies thus developed jointly. The model provides universities and research institutions (of all sizes) with more immediate and certain benefits than licensing technologies. I am quite interested in seeing the long-term impact of such partnerships (for better or for worse). With long R&D times, the successes and failures of such collaboration may not be known for several years.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Measuring Innovation

During my last year as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, I spent time with the research team of the Innovation Systems Research Network. I was fascinated by the concept of technology clusters (check out Richard Florida's book, The Rise of the Creative Class), and whether their performance could be measured. Particularly challenging was determining the causal relationships in cluster formation.

One widely adopted model for measuring innovation is Michael Porter's of Harvard University. I am fascinated by his "lens," although I have wondered about the transferability of his model to other countries.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

U.S. Patent Office Goes High-Tech

An update from MIT Technology Review describes how the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is harnessing the power of metatags and social networks to deal with an onslaught of patents to be reviewed, particularly for software.

According to the article, the USPTO aims to:
1. Create a centralized, searchable repository of all open-source code and related documentation in existence;
2. Create an indexing system to rank the viability of patent applications;
3. Tap into the greater community's intelligence when reviewing patent applications.

The idea of tapping into a collective community of scholars and experts to review patent applications is fantastic (in all senses of the word, unfortunately, because it carries with it serious legal implications).

I'm all for speeding up the process of granting patents, particularly software patents. The lead time for the development of new software applications is rather short. The up-to-2-year waiting times for the USPTO to process applications meant that many independent inventors who were counting on intellectual property (IP) protection as a gateway to secure market protection would be delayed in business development. Although in the U.S. inventors can sue infringers retroactively, small companies and independent inventors may not be able to afford the costs of litigation.

Faster patent processing = faster pace of innovation = keeping up with the 21st century = a boon for small companies and independent inventors with IP as a competitive advantage

Monday, January 09, 2006


In my studies of innovation clusters, talent was always one of the indicators of the success of economic development. Thus, attracting, training, and retaining talented innovators and entrepreneurs seems to be a key ingredient for regional growth.

In a recent Globe & Mail commentary, Roger Martin, the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, attested that Canada does not have a problem in churning out talented scientists and innovators. The problem, according to Martin, is a shortage of skilled managers.

I agree with Martin; managerial (and entrepreneurial) talent is in shortage (not only in Canada). An MBA or in-classroom education is only one of the ways to develop successful managers. The other component is on-the-job training and the bestowing of responsibility (and, thus, being tolerant of occassional failure).

Job training through internships, mentorship programs, and fostering of start-ups among MBAs complements the financial, human resource, and marketing skills honed in an MBA program. There is much to be said for a standardized and organized processes learned in a classroom. But there is much to be said for the unpredictability of managerial circumstances. (Can entrepreneurship be learned, for instance? That's a topic for a separate post!).

Corporations are beginning to set up mentorship programs for those on managerial tracks (both pre- and post-MBAs). The transfer of tacit skills learned as apprentices to mentors can be invaluable to young innovators, entrepreneurs, and managers. (I must mention that mentorship programs are inherently difficult to structure and implement; there must be a strong committment from both sides to achieve specific and measurable goals).

My hats off to the many corporations that offer mentorship to employees (check out Sun's SEED Program) and students (like the University of Toronto's Rotman School).

Friday, January 06, 2006

Breaking Even

I often come across inventors so excited by their ideas that they toss and turn at night. While ideas are fabulous, innovators need to expend more energy on analyzing the viability of their ideas. Asking about specific customers who would buy the product is a great start.

However, inventors must also be realistic about the amount of time, money, and expertise that it takes to bring a new idea to the market. The market can be a fickle beast. And selling directly to consumers can also be quite arduous. One simple calculation is the break-even calculation. Check out a series of useful calculations (and even a plug-and-play calculator) from Case Western University.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.