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Module 4: Intellectual property and commercialisation

2.4: Role of the researcher

Commercialisation is a complex and often lengthy process. All projects experience delays caused by a myriad of factors including problems in the R&D stage, lengthy negotiation periods, lack of investment capital, market changes, changes in business focus of partners, and the emergence of new competitors. As such, a successful outcome depends on the researcher's long-term commitment. Often successful outcomes can be directly linked to the long-term commitment of the research and business teams.

Commercially successful researchers are committed to commercialising their project. They have an external focus and recognise the trade-off between control and accepting additional value (in investment and resources). In addition, they are compelling communicators and self-critical (aware of their strength and weaknesses). While the commercialisation pathway is unique for every case, there are specific roles the researcher can play.

  Commercialisation stages
1 Research and discovery
2 Disclosure
3 Evaluation
4 Intellectual property (IP) protection and packaging
5 Proof-of-concept
6 Commercial Commercial development
7 Value adding
8 Exit

From discovery to the commercial pathway stage, the researcher will need to work closely with the University's commercialisation office to:

  • Fully disclose new technologies at the earliest opportunity
  • Ensure the research program is structured to achieve a commercial outcome
  • Protect the IP by working with the university and patent attorneys to draft and lodge patents where appropriate
  • Undertake further research on which to base a patent and provide the information necessary to complete final patent filing
  • Answer technical queries posed by interested parties
  • Undertake the appropriate R&D, particularly in the proof-of-concept stage to meet investor/licensee requirements
  • Write or assist in writing appropriate parts of the documents required to proceed with the commercialisation strategy
  • Help 'sell' the IP by developing and delivering presentations on the technology in association with the university commercialisation office
  • Undertake further research and support the commercial partner's activities where appropriate

The researcher is critical to the success of a commercial project. Not only do they play a unique role, but their passion and commitment to a project can make the difference between securing and losing an investor. According to Australian venture capital investor, Michael Quinn [Quinn M. (2001). Bridging the Commercialisation Chasm. ABC Radio National: The Buzz], investors invest in the passionate researcher first and the promising project second because: "1 per cent of the cost, the experience and the dollars are in the inspiration, and 99 per cent is in the perspiration to get it to the marketplace..."
In Stage 7 and Stage 8, the researcher's role can include the following:

  • Principal scientist within a university
  • Chief executive officer (CEO) of start-up company
  • Chief scientific officer (CSO) of start-up company
  • Advisory board member
  • Board member of start-up company
  • Receiver of revenues.

The role taken on by the researcher should reflect his or her strengths. For the success of the venture it is important that the researcher is realistic about these. For example, a new company seeking to list on the stock market will have the greatest chance of success with an experienced CEO at the helm and the researcher, as the CSO, driving the development of the company's products – rather than the researcher being the CEO. Whatever the role of the research, an ability to ‘enjoy the ride’ helps!

 

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