We, at MITO, started our business to support TTOs at universities and public research organizations to valorize they intellectual property covering research results. We thought difficulties in exploitation were a peculiarity of Italian universities and PROs. Later, through the ProgressTT experience, we found the situation is more general and, with few (remarkable) exceptions, everyone strives to create impact out of their intellectual property. Many valuable technologies lie unexploited and hide a great potential in innovation, whether in terms of new medicines or enabling technologies of the fourth industrial revolution.
As times go by, the situation only improves marginally, while industry is more and more looking for innovative products and services. This is true for large corporates and SMEs, and it applies to disruptive technologies as well as incremental innovation. Vaccines and covid-related drugs are only an example of what we miss. Whether we like it or not, the technology market in Europe is still still!
In a previous post, we noted that a number of top U.S. universities and research institutions created an alliance to favor licensing; it is the University Technology Licensing Program https://www.utlp.net/ . As they say, “UTLP was formed to provide a way to conveniently disseminate and encourage further use of innovations contributed to the pool by the participating universities”. Maybe this was, at least partly, a response to observers that claim a limited role for TTOs in favoring technology transfer (see https://differentfunds.com/research/deeptech-solutions/). To be sure, the tech transfer industry is organizing to tackle a challenge and it is likely this pursuit, at least in the United States, will achieve the desired effects.
In Europe, and especially in Italy, we might be closer to the solution than what we are ready to believe. The Italian TTOs association, Netval, co-created Knowledge Share (https://www.knowledge-share.eu/ ) a sharing platform originally developed by Politecnico di Torino, now supported by the Italian Patent and Trademark Office (www.uibm.gov.it). KS now hosts more than 1.400 proprietary technologies out for licensing, in what seems to be the largest showcase of technological opportunities in Europe. If the platform were able to scale up at European level (and maybe offering visibility to other countries, for example Africa or Latin American universities and public research organizations), it would be set to become the largest player in the world.
Someone may wonder if this is sustainable and, possibly, profitable. After all, the recent history is packed with examples of platforms that were created out of big roll of drums and ended up mostly in a miserable re-invention of the wheel that none did care. Allow us to say that this time it might be different, for a number of reasons. The highly and constantly invoked critical mass for platforms to survive and prosper is already there. It just needs to evolve and be nurtured.
There are more than 2.700 universities in Europe, and none knows exactly how many research institutions that generate technologies to be transferred to the market. If each of them were asked to pay, say, 1.000 euros a year to have the chance to post an unlimited number of technology offers, any platform would easily make millions. This alone would make the platform sustainable.
And since it takes two to tango, imagine if you could charge and average of 5.000 euros for each corporation willing to have a preview of the technologies showcased on the platform, and a pre-fixed amount of money for an option on the technologies they select (an option fee that the platform could share with the technology owner) as candidate for in-licensing, the platform would make millions of euros. No need to fancy royalties, success fees, or other contingency-based fees for the platform. All this alone would make it profitable, leaving the big chunk of returns to the technology owners, while saving huge transaction costs to innovators.
And, with several thousands of technologies populating the platform every year, it is easy to imagine how an AI-powered engine could create technology clusters, run freedom to operate analysis, connect automatically providers and buyers, suggest deals. Not to mention the possibility to observe prices for the transactions and allow for easy estimations of intellectual property value.
The economics of platforms taught us that there cannot be many operators and typically the first mover enjoys significant competitive advantage if it manages to reach a critical mass ahead of others. Thanks to the intuition of some in the business, this time Italy can give the world such platform, to the benefit of all.