From a maker space to novel, streamlined intellectual property licensing terms to a forthcoming Web app for connecting students with mentors in the innovation community, several new initiatives are making good on plans to broaden the scope of University of Washington’s erstwhile technology commercialization arm.
These efforts, in various stages of development, reflect a mission that is “more about innovation transfer than tech transfer,” says Vikram Jandhyala, appointed the UW’s first vice provost of innovation last summer with a mandate to imbue nearly every corner of the university with “entrepreneurial thinking.”
“You can think of innovation as a pipeline,” says Jandhyala, sitting on a couch inside the new CoMotion maker space in Fluke Hall. “It starts with undergraduate students and goes all the way to startups, or people joining industry or academia. We’re trying to look at our entire pipeline, rather than just the final stage, which is ‘Here is a technology. How do you commercialize it?'”
Technology commercialization and startup formation were the main focuses of the Center for Commercialization, rebranded earlier this year as CoMotion in an effort to signal the broader portfolio of activities. While continuing those core functions—and transforming some of them with new intellectual property (IP) policies—-CoMotion and Jadnhyala’s office now lead a campus-wide push for innovation education at all levels and in all disciplines.
This broader mission comes just as the rich royalty stream that had financed UW’s commercialization activities for more than two decades dried up: A suite of technologies fundamental to the biotech industry, and worth more than $350 million to the UW over their lifetime, went off patent last April. Linden Rhoads, the former head of the commercialization office, called the day “Black Tuesday.”
But with CoMotion’s broader scope comes the potential for new business models and potential funding sources to replace the tech transfer’s traditional reliance on revenue from technology licenses and equity in spinout companies, Jandhyala says.
“I think that model is very challenging because one, you could do things which are not optimal,” Jandhyala says. (Indeed, an outside commercialization committee reported in 2013 that the UW’s past efforts to generate more revenue from intellectual property were driving up transaction costs for licensing, thus hampering technology transfer and hindering startups.) “Secondly, it’s very spiky. You can get a hit after 10 years—and you should do this, because you want to get those black swan events—but you can’t plan and build a business around something like that.”
Jandhyala says he’s worked closely with top university administrators to develop a new model with more funding from the central administration budget, industry partnerships, and, a couple years down the road, a request to the state Legislature for more support. Jandhyala says that the abrupt departure of UW President Michael Young to Texas A&M has done nothing to slow the momentum. Though he championed startup formation and a broader innovation agenda during his four years in charge, Young’s replacement, on an interim basis, is Ana Mari Cauce, who was closely involved in these efforts in her prior role as provost.
Jandhyala acknowledges that many of the new efforts are experiments that need to prove themselves effective to justify continued funding. “If we bring real value, we should find a way to fund it,” he says. “If we don’t bring real value, then we turn that part off.”
Here’s a closer look at some of CoMotion’s new initiatives:
Intellectual property. The UW is in the process of revising its intellectual property policies, but already CoMotion is implementing a structure for new streamlined agreements with companies like Boeing that sponsor research on campus.
CoMotion has developed what Jandhyala described as “pre-packaged IP” to help reduce the uncertainty and paperwork required to allocate intellectual property developed through industry-funded university research. The idea is being piloted through the Boeing Advanced Research Center, a new outpost in the mechanical engineering department to house Boeing employees for collaborative research with UW students and faculty.
Under the typical model, a company would make a research grant and then when the work was completed, enter into a separate negotiation with the university for rights to any resulting intellectual property.
With pre-packaged IP, “we provide the IP rights and agreement before the project starts,” Jandhyala says. “It sounds straightforward, but it’s never been done.”
The approach was developed within CoMotion, and the College of Engineering has signed up to try it out, with at least two other colleges showing interest, he says.
“This will really make it very quick for companies to say, ‘Here’s what I’m funding, and here’s the IP right I’m getting, and here’s the cost of the entire process,’—so there’s very little uncertainty left when ideas come out later, and you don’t have to renegotiate,” Jandhyala says.
There is a clause which triggers renegotiation in the event that … Next Page »