Tapping the R&D Gold Mine

By Fannin, Rebecca | Chief Executive (U.S.), June 2005 | Go to article overview

Tapping the R&D Gold Mine


Fannin, Rebecca, Chief Executive (U.S.)


While other options exist, the most direct way to gain access to technologies developed on university campuses is to license them.

Some 3,000 universities, including leading business and engineering schools such as MIT, Harvard and Stanford, have an office dedicated to technology licensing. Their job is to facilitate movement of lab inventions to the marketplace. The programs vary, but there are some basic guiding principles.

First and foremost, the university owns the intellectual property to the product or technology developed on campus. The licensing and technology office typically files for a patent after combing through dozens of inventions. At Harvard, the licensing office "receives reports on about 150 inventions each year, but we only file patents on about 40 percent of them," says Erik Halvorsen, director of business development at Harvard's Office for Technology and Trademark Licensing. "We license about 65 percent of those, and about one in 10 of those is successful." Those successes include two large bioteeh companies in Cambridge, Mass., Millennium Pharmaceuticals and a spin-out group from Genzyme, says Halvorsen. Novartis is also making use of licensing at Harvard, most recently with a treatment for multiple sclerosis.

Most leading research universities also maintain the right to publish news of any technological or scientific advance, typically in an academic or scientific journal. "Corporate managers need to be aware that we are an academic institution and not a business," says Lita Nelsen, director of the MIT Technology Licensing Office. In other words, universities will not delay publishing breakthrough research so that a company can make a splash with a commercial launch. Nelson has had to explain the competing prioritics to irritated corporate representatives. "It takes a while for them to get over it the first time regarding the university policies, what they can do and what they can't do," says Nelson, who manages some 170 patents at the 30-employee office. Among her successes: a bladder cancer detection product for Matritech, a hip replacement compound for Zimmer and a Bristol-Myers Squibb medical imaging product called Cardiolite, which has generated more than $20 million in royalties for joint sponsors MIT and Harvard. …

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Tapping the R&D Gold Mine
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