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Tech Transfer Keeps Light Moving

EuroPhotonics
Jun 2012

Moving promising technologies out of academic labs and into the hands of business builders means that game-changing, life-saving tools and devices can get where they are needed most.

Efforts are strong across Europe to open technology vaults and make them easy to access. Just this past April, the European TTO CIRCLE (Technology Transfer Offices – Connecting Innovation and Research Centres and Laboratories in Europe) launched in Rome. The network brings together the technology transfer offices of 25 large public research organizations, with the goal of increasing the market and societal impact of publicly funded research. Its priorities include developing financial facilities for technology transfer and the reduction of IP barriers to collaborative research. We applaud this burgeoning interest in industry growth through access and collaboration.

Just think of the numbers: When the US Congress passed the Bayh-Dole Act – also known as the University and Small Business Patent Procedures Act – back in 1980, it was estimated that the federal government, through its many agencies, held more than 25,000 unlicensed patents. Imagine the gold mine of IP when that potential was multiplied by the number of governments and university systems around the world, each holding onto its own cache of proven ideas and technologies, as well as the technologies that have advanced and grown in the intervening 30 years.

Today photonics industry organizations around the globe are doing their part to bring together experts, IP holders and those interested in building businesses around those patents to share experiences, good practices and available technologies.

For example, universities in Scotland are making it easier for companies to work with them, through the University Technology program and its web portal. University-Technology.com, launched in 2004 and relaunched last year, offers access to more than 200 current technologies for a variety of applications, including semiconductor defect detection, thin-film measurement, optical parametric oscillator pumping and other photonic technologies. A social media component including Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook was recently added to the website.

“University Technology is driven by the unique collaboration of Scottish universities working together to help companies find technologies available for licensing and collaboration opportunities to solve their problems and help their businesses grow,” said Derek Waddell, director of research and commercialization at the University of Edinburgh.

Robert Goodfellow, technology transfer manager at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, told CLEO 2012 attendees about the web portal during the Technology Transfer Program, sponsored by Photonics Media, publisher of EuroPhotonics.

At the event, held in May in San Jose, Calif., I asked Goodfellow what he thought the current climate was for tech transfer. “It’s huge,” he said. “There are so many fantastic technologies waiting to be commercialized.”

Goodfellow also introduced attendees to the following initiatives and their websites:

• Easy Access Initiative: http://easyaccessip.org.uk
• Scottish Universities Physics Alliance: http://supa.ac.uk
• Stanford University and Caltech/Scottish UniversitiesPartnership: http://su2p.com

The folks at Scotland’s M Squared Lasers know a little something about technology transfer, having based their Firefly-THz terahertz source on intracavity optical parametric oscillator technology developed at the University of St. Andrews. Formed in 2005, M Squared has worked with a number of other European universities as well.

I spoke with M Squared CEO and co-founder Graeme Malcolm at CLEO, and he told me, “We’re looking to associate with some of the best groups. It’s a bit of a new approach to have this open collaborative model.” There has been a change on the academic side – which used to be quite protective of its technology developments – that has allowed technology transfer to happen, he said. “Universities have realized it is part of their mission to get IP out there into the market.”

The energy and enthusiasm of successful university spinouts and tech transfers are creating a powerful momentum that will surely drive continued growth. Putting IP assets to good use and encouraging innovation are still good for the photonics industry.


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