[LINK] Caring about public-sector knowledge transfer
Thu, 16 Aug 2001 16:16:50 +1000
Caring about public-sector knowledge transfer
By COLIN MELVIN
16 August 2001
In recent years the commercialisation of public-sector research has become
a significant issue for governments, public-sector research organisations
and providers of research funds.
At the meeting of the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering and Innovation
Council in June, an independent working group presented a paper on this
subject. The report indicated an increasing awareness of the need to create
more equity in Australian companies.
Although knowledge transfer in Australia has generally been associated with
licensing deals, the report argues that there is a need to create more
wealth by holding an equity position in Australian-based companies. However
this does require the entrepreneur to have the necessary business skills to
carry the project through and for the public sector commercialisation units
to have adequate resources to support the success of spin-offs.
High profile Australian spin-off company successes include ResMed, Cochlear
and Vision Systems, Alchemia, Gropep and Melbourne IT.
The working group report to PMSEIC concluded that although Australian
universities are creating spin-off companies at about the same rate as
their US counterparts, the Australian target should be something closer to
the rates achieved by Stanford University and MIT who have enjoyed great
success in recent years.
Australian universities operate in a very different environment to these
high performing US universities. They do not have the benefit of a
legislative policy framework such as the US Bayh-Dole Act (1980) for the
commercialisation of federally funded research nor do they have the same
level of access to early stage venture capital which in the US creates an
environment for spin-offs that is not matched in Australia. It is
encouraging to see the PMSEIC working group report supporting the
establishment of a pre-seed fund for use by publicly funded research
organisations and that the Australian Government is taking steps to
implement this fund.
This type of support will assist the commercialisation of public sector
research including the creation of more spin-off companies with the public
sector retaining more equity in these companies.
Most Australian universities and public sector research organisations have
commercial arms responsible for commercialising their research. The
Australasian Tertiary Institutions Commercial Companies Association
represents these organisations.
At its annual conference in Adelaide last month, ATICCA members responded
to these challenges by voting overwhelmingly in favour of a new strategic
direction for the association including a change in name to Knowledge
KCA aims to be the peak body representing organisations and individuals
associated with knowledge transfer from the public sector and is committed
to working with government and industry to commercialise Australia's
public-sector research. Cultural barriers, conflict of interest issues,
negotiation of agreements and best practice in research collaboration and
commercialisation are issues that need to be addressed.
As the bar is lifted by PMSEIC and others, the challenge for Australian
public sector organisations is to take a proactive role to influence
government and industry to support commercialisation not just through
words, but through the development of frameworks and funding mechanisms
that allow the development of an environment which is conducive to success.
KCA has taken up this challenge. It will implement initiatives in line with
government policies and provide a commercialisation forum for public sector
organisations and others contributing to the success of these activities.
'Australian universities operate in a very different environment to high
performing universities in the US.'
KCA offers an informed focal point for government and industry discussions
on policies related to knowledge transfer from public sector organisations,
professional development opportunities for professionals involved in the
business of knowledge transfer and commercialisation and network
opportunities for the sharing of ideas and lessons learned.
At the ATICCA 2001 meeting, the Chief Scientist, Robin Batterham outlined
his vision for excellence, collaboration and connectivity to achieve even
better outcomes for Australia. Dr Batterham's vision for ATICCA (now KCA)
is to be a catalyst for a greatly increased rate of commercialisation. KCA
is keen to take up this challenge by providing best practice targets.
It will be a forum enabling linkages between public sector
commercialisation bodies interacting with government, industry and commerce
Mr Melvin is chairman of Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia.
A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.