I’m reading The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steven Blank. Consider this: “The difference between winners and losers is simple. Products developed with senior management out in front of customers early and often – win. Products handed off to a sales and marketing organization that has only been tangentially involved in the new Product Development process lose. It’s that simple.”
Perhaps it is that simple. If universities are going to implement a compulsory ownership policy for inventions, then if they really want success in licensing, it’s the university president, provost, and deans that have to be out in front, early and often, talking up the inventions with potential users and developers. Not some process-oriented set of middle managers, no matter that they have “business experience” or Ph.D.s in biochemistry. Doesn’t matter.
What matters is whether the leadership of the organization is going to put their reputation and resources on the line to move inventions from lab to community, or whether they are going to be preoccupied or indifferent or incapable. This is not a matter of senior leadership talking up excellence, or research, or innovation, or what a wonderful organization of middle managers they have to pass things off to. It’s a matter of taking on the activity directly. It is that simple.
Perhaps if a tech transfer office’s criterion for demanding ownership of inventions was: “will the university president take this on, front and center, early and often, to make a deal happen” then there would be a lot fewer claims on inventions, or a very different work schedule for senior administration.
Of course, universities don’t have to continue to pursue compulsory invention ownership policies. They could go back to letting inventors go out with their inventions. Old school, the way university technology transfer came to be thought of as something good, before university administrations got the idea that the university should demand ownership rather than consider accepting it.
In a way, an inventor is senior management of his or her invention out of the gate, until the university tries to take the invention away, to be managed by middle managers in a marketing organization “on behalf of the public” or “to get a fair return for the taxpayer”. The inventors could market their work themselves, or could choose an organization that is willing to work with them–with an expectation that that organization’s senior management will be out in front of customers making the sale and not handing it off to a marketing process. If the university tech transfer office wants to be that organization, then get on the horn to the president’s or the dean’s office. See how important the invention is to them.
From this we can see that a compulsory inventor ownership program that relies on a technology transfer organization built on process actually suppresses innovation success. Worse and worse if it tries to “tighten up” its ownership of inventions, so it claims more inventions and asserts those claims earlier. It doesn’t matter that it has neat marketing materials or a review committee. It doesn’t matter what metrics it reports about inventions claimed or patents filed or licensed. Inventions in such a program are succeeding–if they are–despite the program. Whatever the reported “successes”–the university would have *more* successes if it didn’t have a losing middle management approach to inventions.
Organizational leadership in innovation does matter. The technology transfer office that takes a compulsory position on invention ownership is using value subtracted marketing. It is suppressing innovation, not completely but enough to make a difference, so to speak. It’s that simple.