Options for reform

17.69 As noted above, some of the impediments to technology transfer and commercialisation are caused by the size of the Australian biotechnology industry. Other impediments arise from a lack of expertise, but as recent surveys demonstrate, this problem is diminishing as research organisations increase their skills and experience. These may best be addressed through facilitating continued education.

Education and support programs

17.70 A wide variety of education and support programs are already in place to promote the development of expertise and it is likely that improvements in technology transfer practices over the past five years can be in part attributed to these programs. However, from submissions and consultations, it appears that there is room for further continuing education to improve skills across the research sector.[78] This should include education and support programs for technology transfer offices to aid them in improving the specific skills needed to deal with transferring and commercialising genetic research.

17.71 Such programs and materials should focus on building skills that will enable technology transfer offices to overcome the impediments outlined above, including:

  • the basics of intellectual property with specific reference to genetic research;

  • techniques for identifying, protecting and managing technology with commercial potential;

  • methods for encouraging researchers to identify and prevent premature disclosure of such technology;

  • strategic management of intellectual property resources;

  • approaches to commercialisation of technology; and

  • aspects of good commercial practice, such as good licensing practice and approaches to attracting commercial interest in new technologies.

17.72 Programs might also include training in basic science where appropriate. For example, the Wills Report recommended programs to cross-train managers in science.[79]

17.73 One possible model for such training is the technology transfer training website created by the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH). The site provides information about patenting, cooperative research and development arrangements, MTAs, licensing, royalties and ethics and includes links to any relevant NIH policies. It also takes the participant through a series of interactive scenarios that apply the knowledge gained in the information sections.[80]

17.74 However, education programs alone may not provide sufficient skills. PMSEIC has pointed out that it is difficult to instil all the expertise required for successful research commercialisation through education programs.[81] Other programs might therefore be directed at helping researchers and industry to draw on each other’s experiences.[82] This might be achieved through developing fora for exchanging know-how and improving organisation–industry interaction.[83]

Best practice models

17.75 Best practice for transfer and commercialisation involves researchers and technology transfer offices working closely to identify, protect and exploit research. Researchers are better placed to understand what is new or unique about the research, while transfer office staff should have the appropriate skills in intellectual property and commercialisation to obtain patents and undertake the commercialisation process.

17.76 DEST has advised that potentially valuable intellectual property is best identified ‘through decentralised processes close to the researcher, but with effective partnership with the research commercialisation office. Researchers hence need to be assisted to develop these skills’.[84] This might include practices such as the UniQuest model of placing a ‘commercialisation manager’ in each faculty to identify and develop potentially valuable intellectual property.[85]

17.77 Publication of guidelines for best practice in technology transfer and commercialisation might aid the dissemination of knowledge and expertise to less experienced organisations.

Clarifying ownership of patents

17.78 One solution to the issue of ‘dirty IP’, including patents that do not have a clearly defined, single owner, is to revise the National Principles of Intellectual Property Management[86](National Principles)to provide guidance on negotiation of ownership where the research leading to the patented invention was conducted jointly, or with funds from overseas bodies that have staked an ownership claim.[87]

Addressing problems of scale

17.79 DEST has suggested that the problems of scale faced by smaller and regional research organisations should be addressed by encouraging networking to share their expertise. It suggested that this might be facilitated by KCA or the AIC, and by case managers involved in local incubators.[88] The ALRC has also heard suggestions that research organisations, especially universities, could address issues of scale by developing a centralised technology transfer office. Organisations could also focus on developing experience in commercialising particular technologies and outsource transfer and commercialisation of other research to organisations with relevant skills and experience.[89]

Other options

17.80 The DEST Report suggested some approaches that might encourage greater commercialisation of research results. These were to: (a) give academics greater rights over the inventions they produce when publicly funded; or (b) revert ownership of inventions to the government or the government funding body.[90]

17.81 Commercialisation might be promoted by assigning the intellectual property to the inventor where the research organisation has chosen not to transfer or commercially develop it. The inventor will have an incentive to pursue commercial development, as any profits from exploitation will now flow to them directly. This option is considered in Chapters 11 and 14. Reverting ownership to government or government funding bodies is also considered in Chapter 11.

17.82 Finally, there may be a need to conduct a study of technology transfer office practice that focuses specifically on the commercialisation of biotechnology. Although a number of studies of technology transfer practice have been carried out, these have been general in scope. A more directed survey could identify any particular difficulties faced by technology transfer offices when commercialising genetic research.

[78] The ALRC notes that submissions to the DEST Collaboration Review also suggested that the lack of expertise in technology transfer could be addressed in part by the provision of further training programs: Department of Education Science and Training, Review of Closer Collaboration between Universities and Major Publicly Funded Research Agencies (2004), 34.

[79] Health and Medical Research Strategic Review Committee, The Virtuous Cycle: Working Together for Health and Medical Research (1998), 128.

[80] National Institutes of Health, NIH On-line Technology Transfer Training, <http://tttraining.od.nih.gov/> at 16 June 2004.

[81] Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council, Profiting from the Biotechnology Revolution (1998), 6.

[82] Ibid, 6.

[83] Ibid, 5–6.

[84] Department of Education Science and Training, Best Practice Processes for University Research Commercialisation (2002), vii.

[85] Ibid, ix.

[86] Australian Research Council and others, National Principles of Intellectual Property Management for Publicly Funded Research (2001). TheNational Principles are discussed in Ch 11.

[87] Department of Education Science and Training, Best Practice Processes for University Research Commercialisation (2002), ix.

[88] Ibid, ix.

[89] J Hearn, Consultation, Sydney, 4 May 2004; A Bennett, Consultation, Sydney, 15 March 2004.

[90] Department of Education Science and Training, Analysis of the Legal Framework for Patent Ownership in Publicly Funded Research Institutions (2003), 75.