On Patents and Partnerships

Without delving into the economics or forces involved, it is known that traditional funding of academic research is becoming substantially more competitive.  Interestingly, at UCLA, we are increasingly encountering an appetite for entrepreneurship and industry collaboration amongst faculty.  Moreover, corporate groups, across many industry verticals, are now seeking to partner with academic experts to produce targeted research outcomes.  In what may be a case of fortunate timing, I see these changes in mindset as opportunities to develop alliances to support the goals of driving science and innovation more quickly into the public sphere.

In fiscal year 2013, UCLA’s Office of Intellectual Property & Industry Sponsored Research (OIP-ISR) managed the intake of more than 400 new invention disclosures and 230 industry sponsored research awards.  Further, as of year-end, 735 UCLA inventions were under active license to industry partners or to one of 100 operating UCLA startups.  It should also be noted that more than ten percent of those licensed inventions were developed via sponsored research.   Through committed engagement with UCLA faculty and industry, the team at UCLA’s OIP-ISR has produced an impressive amount of collaborative activity.

Still, to aid our faculty in the changing funding environment, UCLA’s OIP-ISR is working to provide opportunities for direct interaction between all relevant parties: industry, investors and inventors.  In short, we are working to facilitate productive collaborations.   This is the theme of events such as the upcoming UCLA Cleantech & Advanced Materials Partnering Conference September 27th, 2013, where the keynote will be delivered by Ira Ehrenpreis, General Partner at Technology Partners, who serves of the Board of Tesla Motors.  The event will feature panels from industry representatives, cleantech investors, and talks by faculty that showcase breakthrough innovations such as new supercapacitor batteries and extensive smart grid infrastructure developments.

Our goal is to overcome what is sometimes a significant challenge: matching scientific discovery with industry or marketplace need.  Arguably, if we are successful, it will be as a result of engaging the appropriate parties and encouraging early, impactful collaborations on the basis of mutual interests and capabilities.  The enthusiastic participation of major players, such as Ira Ehrenpreis and the long list of corporate representatives who volunteer to serve on panels at our conferences, is indicative of an exciting change in momentum.   As an office, UCLA’s OIP-ISR, too, is shifting focus to enable an ecosystem of innovation, wherein partnership is the sustaining force for scientific innovation and commercialization.