Patents: Benefits of alliance of academia and industry

By Pankaj Musyuni, LexOrbis

Collaboration between academics and industry can play a vital role in developing nascent technologies and have a positive impact on business and the economy. Though some scholars may worry that a focus on business will delay the publication of research work and shift the focus of research and development away from fulfilling public needs, scientific efforts require funding support. Therefore, industry-academia alliances for knowledge development are here to stay.

Intellectual property (IP) has emerged as an essential component in driving the knowledge economy. The purpose of protecting IP, particularly patents, is not only to promote the creation and development of inventions, but also to encourage the dissemination and use of research to the public at the appropriate time.

Pankaj Musyuni, LexOrbis
Pankaj Musyuni

As an asset, IP can be bought, sold, mortgaged, licensed and exchanged like any other form of property and can also confer an exclusive right to make, exercise, use, sell or distribute an invention in India. Further, IP can be regarded as an indicator of an academic institution’s achievements in exploring development activities and of an individual researcher’s ability.

In the past, organizations and academic institutions underutilized the IP system due to lack of awareness, intricacy, and lack of easily accessible training and/or professional assistance. However, as a result of paradigm changes in practice and major developments such as evolution of the National IPR Policy to promote innovation and commercialization (under Creative India; Innovative India) and initiatives such as Make in India, Digital India, Skill India and Startup India, more assistance is now available.

India needs to innovate and promote creativity and also to protect and use the IP created out of public-funded support. Lack of funding impedes many autonomous research institutions in commercializing the fruits of their research and development work. Academic institutions also will need to focus on alternatives apart from the core academic paradigm, which traditionally focused on publication outcomes instead of protection via patents. Most academic institutions are working towards modelling themselves on the leading research institutes by adopting an innovative work culture. With growing awareness of how important it is to create and protect the IP, patents are a new dimension that can be added to an academic portfolio, along with academic consulting and licensing to industry.

The benefits of patents and commercialization include promotion of innovation and investment, efficient use of resources, economic benefits to meet social needs and appropriately reward researchers, and knowledge sharing and management. There are worries that major funding by industry could turn academic institutions into short-term-solution providing platforms that lose interest in performing basic research. The mutual concern should be acquiring knowledge. Industries deal with market predictions and emphasize areas which might be of interest in the future. Consider the example of a life-saving drug product. The basic research done in an academic institution may result in a fundamental scientific development that may be transmitted into successful molecules in clinical trials. Accordingly, bringing together expertise and resources at an early stage can ensure the best possible outcome.

On the other hand, interaction with industry can be helpful for guidance in education policy and research activities of academic institutions. While academic knowledge and research experience is of relevance to industry, academics can learn how to impose certain standards from industry to handle large projects within appropriate timelines. Further, the benefits of cooperation can be in terms of joint research programmes, governance and initiating the use of research outputs for the benefit of society.

It is important for small-scale research work carried out in an academic environment to reach an industrial scale for its application and use. Similarly, alliances with academia for optimum quality research can be a challenging opportunity for industry. By joint efforts, apart from the development of novel molecules, treatments for rare diseases can be researched and achieved. Since an early stage tie-up is required for such activities, it is advisable not to publish research work anywhere before filing a patent application.

It is also advisable for both sides to check for technical and commercial viability of an invention and to watch for technological advancements. The relationship is two-way in terms of budgetary benefits and these collaborations are increasingly attractive for both industry and academia.

Pankaj Musyuni is a managing associate at LexOrbis.

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