There is a problem in universities today. Cash-strapped and sometimes (it feels) criminally underfunded, they have been forced to consider their options for other revenue streams.
In many cases, intellectual property has become the focus of efforts to leverage their valuable level of research output.
But this is easier said than done: graduate students do not always know how to assess what valuable IP is, let alone how to patent an idea, and these are the future researchers who will be responsible for recognizing patentable inventions and then taking steps to protect them.
Universities carry the rights to commercialize their own IP and governments everywhere are desperate to help them get their patents to market quickly, whereby invention and research turns into industrial products and processes.
In order to achieve this, it might be necessary to design an entirely new system of selling IP for use in industry.
This is where blockchain comes in
Touted as a technology with potential to create new foundations for our economic and social systems, the possibilities seem endless and implementations manifold; it only makes sense that it’s used to further ideas and inventions.
An online marketplace for patents and IPs would utilise blockchain by having smart, automatically verified contracts.
This means that intellectual property can be transferred safely, securely and with no chance of either side reneging on the deal—every single stage of the transaction is transparently recorded on a ledger, nearly impossible to change, and full transfer is required for the contract to finalise.
The future might see the buying and selling of patents become as casual and straightforward as browsing on eBay.
Crucially, for universities, this would allow them to efficiently liquidate their intellectual property while the research is able to come to fruition, albeit not from them, providing a far greater overall economic and community benefit.
Even if you have your registered trademark… how to sell in today’s market?
But realising you have a patent of some value is only half the battle; working out how and where to sell it is where untapped IP potential in universities goes into a real bottleneck.
It’s a rare case that students or professors will start a company from an idea or invention—most of the time they would instead look for a buyer… but right now this is easier said than done.
There is, staggeringly, currently no process for a universal trademark search system and it would make things much easier. Buyers and sellers would be able to connect with each other whilst expending about as much effort as shopping online.
If you want to sell your IP today, you will usually have to rely on your address book, which means that all too often research is left to languish in university libraries.
Nowadays it is often through industry contacts that universities rely on to sell their patents—imagine a world instead where they can expose new inventions to industries on a global scale, with potential buyers from across the world.
A blockchain-powered online marketplace could be a solution to all of these problems, he contends.
It would allow universities to list entire catalogues of patents for sale which would then be searchable for companies worldwide.
Why should universities limit themselves to local industry contacts when there are potential buyers from industries in the far corners of the globe? It could be that in the near future they won’t have to.
Photo by: Jeremy Bishop