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PIRA International interview with Quentin Tannock (Chairman, CambridgeIP) ahead of the NanoMaterials 2011 conference

By Sarah Helm on May 4, 2011 in IP
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Last week PIRA International interviewed Quentin Tannock (Chairman, CambridgeIP) ahead of the NanoMaterials 2011 conference (London, June 2011).  Read below for Quentin’s responses on a range of topics including: Open innovation in nanotech; Challenges and opportunities in pushing out nano materials R&D into industry; Fostering relationships across the disparate end-use sectors of nanotechnology.

> A lot of people talk about open innovation – do you see a lot of these type of collaborations in the nanotech sector?

My view is that success in nanotech, especially for the smaller players and research institutes, is increasingly about succeeding in ‘open innovation’.  This noted, the frequency of open innovation activity including collaborations seems more dependent on culture in the target industry sector than on the type of nanotechnology being deployed.

In more detail: The current economic environment means that the chances of an SME, University or inventor receiving an investment of sufficient working capital to take a nanotech research project, scale it up and roll it out commercially are much less than in the past.  This funding squeeze means that smaller players are less likely to be able to afford to ‘do it all in house’ and that finding corporate strategic partners with experience, scale and contacts is even more important at an even earlier stage than in the past.  Of course we see a fair amount of nanotech acquired or otherwise brought in-house (e.g. through collaborations) by established industry players.  However it must be said that the frequency of this type of open innovation activity appears to be more dependent on the open innovation culture in the industry sector, and even within specific major corporate partner organisations, than on the technology sub-sector or type of nanotech involved.

> Where do you see the biggest opportunities for research establishments pushing R&D out into industry

Come and see my presentation at the conference!  Our research with PraxisUnico (the UK’s leading technology transfer training organisation) and our work with research institutes around the world demonstrates that a key challenge for research institutes in pushing R&D out into industry is gaining an understanding industry requirements at a very early stage of R&D and understanding industrial product/appliaction specifications at later stages of R&D.  Turning this challenge around, those research establishments who can understand actual industry requirements and product/applicaton specifications will realise major industrial opportunities.  Much of our work with Universities and research institutes surrounds providing their researchers with this ‘industrial context’.

> You follow new technology development and patent registrations, where are you seeing most activity for nanomaterials?

As I said before, come and see my presentation at the conference!  Nanomaterials remains a relatively vibrant sub-sector of the nano space overall, and there are interesting trends within the nanomaterials space itself.  I look forward to discussing these trends with the conference delegates.

> Some industry commentators give the impression there’s a lot of materials development in the nanotech sector, but much of it doesn’t meet specific applications and therefore struggles to reach commercial scale - would you agree with this notion?

I would certainly agree that many University originated developments never reach commercial scale, whether the developments are nanotech or not.  Our research and our work with research institutes, discussed above, suggests that there is a general failure to understand industry requirements and specifications rather than a problem specific to the nanotech sector.  This noted, clearly some nanotechologies are particularly challenging to scale-up efficiently.  Add these two features together and one can see how many valuable nanotech innovations arising in basic research institutes will never reach commercial scale.

A CambridgeIP / PraxisUnico survey of leading UK Universities found that much University research fails to find a home in industry because it does not fulfil a current industrial need.  Our own experience teaches that even if such research does meet a need, the research outputs must meet industry product / technology system specifications if they are to be taken up by industry.   I am labouring this point because it is so crucial – you must not only develop something industry wants, but must also do so in a format ‘they’ can readily adopt.  It is worth noting that CambridgeIP/PraxisUnico survey respondents made mention of these four top tips for marketing intellectual property:

• Undertake thorough commercial feasibility analysis very early

• Allocate time to marketing and review your progress regularly

• Utilise your networks

• Take time to build relationships and partnerships with relevant active companies

> How can we better foster relationships across the sometimes disparate end use sectors covered by nanotechnology?

Other technologies have faced similar challenges in the past – take the telecoms sector for example and consider the disparate technologies successfully applied to disparate end uses there. Recently CambridgeIP completed a report for the UK IP Office, part of the Hargreaves Review of IP and Growth, which considered the emerging ‘cross-disciplinary’ telehealth sector (a combination of aspects of the telecoms and health sectors) and made policy recommendations.  It strikes me that many nanotechnology applications are similarly ‘cross-discipinary’ in terms of both underlying science and sector of application and that we could take lessons from the success of technology development and deployment in telecoms, telehealth (and elsewhere) and apply these lessons to specific nanotech developments and nanotech end-uses more broadly.

> What does Cambridge IP do, and what can you offer to companies in the nanotechnology space?

Much of our work in the nanotech space involves accelerating the ‘time to market’ of nanotech developments for companies of all sizes, and for public sector and private sector investors. In all of our projects we use Intellectual Property (IP) as a tool and an information resource, complementing traditional consulting methods.   Some examples of our work include, helping identify and secure the right business partners for a technology and advising clients on securing best position in emerging value-chains.  Sometimes we are asked to undertake IP analysis to inform freedom to operate exercises, and to help clients navigate their IP Landscapes.

CambridgeIP has a very strong nanotech team with backgrounds in academia, the venture capital industry and major corporates. Working from the over 100 million science documents in our databases and other information sources, we help clients identify and prioritise realistic opportunities and assist in developing strategies and tactics to realise the opportunties.  SMEs and Universities usually order fixed price reports containing our analysis and recommendations.  Larger corporations frequently engage with us on a consultative and retainer basis.  Our work for the UK IP Office as part of the Hargreaves Review of IP and Growth provides an example of how we work with policy-makers.

Take the CambridgeIP Survey on Intellectual Property issues in the nanotechnology space, click here for more information

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Sarah HelmView all posts by Sarah Helm

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