Open Innovation and Tech Transfer: A Love Story

It’s an old story. Person with an expertise meets person with another expertise. Cue the orchestra’s string section.

Edison Electric Light Co. was born out of the partnership between Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan. Sergey Brin’s interest in data mining and Larry Page’s interest in ranking the value of information bore Google. Jim Henson had the puppets, Joan Ganz Cooney had the television network and we got Sesame Street.

It’s a story we all know. But let’s talk about how partnerships, specifically between open innovation and tech transfer, can work for you.

Here’s Fuentek senior tech transfer consultant Dr. Nannette Stangle-Castor’s pitch for the marriage of open innovation and tech transfer:  “I truly believe it is through the combining of diverse interests and capabilities that meaningful innovations are developed and important impacts can occur.”

Tim Minshall at the Open Innovation Blog makes a similar argument: “Bringing together start-ups and established firms in mutually beneficial partnerships seems an obvious solution.”

But both warn that successful partnerships aren’t always easy. Here are some strategies to maximize your success at building effective relationships:

Be selective. If you do decide that investing in a partnership is right for your organization, you must then decide where to invest. Everyone’s resources are limited, especially in today’s environment. That means you need to be selective in the partnerships you pursue.

Think long-term. Stangle-Castor offers this proposition: Would you rather invest in a “partnership with a quick, sizable payoff but then is done in 6 months with little potential for follow-on work,” or would you rather pursue a “deal whose near-term impact is small but where the value of the partnership will grow over time?”

Make a realistic assessment. If you’re on the start-up side, assess the readiness of your technology – realistically. Identify tasks and costs associated with production. This assessment will be key in the pursuit of partnerships, as well as the efficient management of those partnerships.

Create a roadmap. Start-ups often want to pursue multiple applications of its technology. Because of this, the start-up should map out those applications and the needed resources, and the established organization should map its capabilities and needs.

Start small. It may be useful for both the start-up and the large firm to work on a small-scale project first. This lets both sides learn how the other operates, allowing for a more productive partnership down the road.

Stay in touch. Keep continual contact; don’t wait until there’s a problem. The large firm should be sure to keep the start-up informed. And the start-up should make sure to attend relevant internal meetings.

It’s not magic. Open innovation, like everything else, is a decision. Stangle-Castor gives this advice: Think about “when to in-license and when your own technology is the best starting point, when to collaborate and when to go it alone, when to use a tool like crowdsourcing and when a more active approach to finding tech solutions is warranted.”

1 thought on “Open Innovation and Tech Transfer: A Love Story”

  1. The question I have is about the concept of trying to commercialize ideas in a collaborative environment, where the inventors are collaborating on something that could be useful and commercially viable. If they have any self-interest at all in the creation of their concept – which most entrepreneurs I represent do; they want to something of value at the end of the day – so there is likely a reason for a pre-venture agreement outlining the collaborators’ rights in the IP they are contributing and developing.
    If people are going to get together and use each other’s ideas and skills to develop something that’s eventually going to be a jointly-owned venture, they need to clearly say in a pre-venture agreement what rights will be owned by the collaborators and what rights are going to be owned by the venture company. And if they end up needing financing, the venture investors or angel investors are going to want to see this pre-venture agreement – typically with all developed IP owned by the company seeking funding. These rights are sometimes opposed to the benefits of open innovation. If you’re talking about who owns what at this early stage, it sometimes defuses the open nature of the innovation.

    David S. Jackson
    Carlile Patchen & Murphy LLP

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