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Fostering Innovation: Addressing challenges in commercialisation

August 28, 2023
The Edge
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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on August 28, 2023 - September 3, 2023

There is a need for technology transfer and commercialisation of technologies and innovations in universities and research institutions. However, there is a lack of technology transfer experts to do this.

The problem is not limited only to academia as technology start-ups and business owners also face pertinent challenges in the commercialisation of technology.

In the academic sector, technology transfer is now part of the government’s mandate for institutions receiving federal funding for research. Most commonly, technology transfer is accomplished through the licensing of intellectual property (IP) rights to companies that have the resources and desire to develop and produce the technology for specific applications.

Consequently, universities receive remuneration in the form of cash fees, equity or royalties from the licensed products or services. The distribution of income to the university follows its individual policy, which includes compensating inventors and implementing a mechanism to reinvest the funds into the university’s research programmes.

The main challenge is that commercialisation requires time, research and development (R&D) and various inputs from different parties to coherently define that a product is commercialised, says Professor Dr Samsilah Roslan, president of Innovation and Technology Managers Association (ITMA), at the Technology Transfer and Commercialisation Metrics: An Overview event organised by the National Technology and Innovation Sandbox (NTIS) on Aug 3.

“The commercialisation of products depends on the type of innovation and concessions, and being obsessed with quick wins does not jive well with the conversation of innovation,” says Samsilah.

In Malaysia, government initiatives such as the Intellectual Property Commercialisation Policy for Research & Development Projects 2021-2025 have been established to prioritise IP protection and the commercialisation of IP through government-funded R&D, creativity and innovation. These policies are designed to encourage local inventions, works and designs that will create jobs and add to the country’s economic growth.

But IPs that entail innovative research and that meet market requirements can be time-consuming.

“Data availability and accuracy is also always a challenge. While auditing all claims is a very taxing and rigorous process, it is also crucial to ensure that the data presented is accurate,” Samsilah says.

Moreover, there is an ongoing debate between declaring commercialised IPs and non-commercialised IPs, she points out.

“There are ideas that are not being filed as IPs mainly because these might be trade secrets that cannot be shared to the public, which makes it even more challenging.”

Samsilah stresses that Malaysia has no standardised commercialisation metrics standing at the international level and as of now, the only metrics the country has been closely looking into is the Global Innovation Index (GII).

The GII monitors current global innovation patterns, sluggish productivity growth and other changing obstacles. It assesses the innovation prowess of approximately 132 economies by identifying the most innovative countries worldwide and highlighting their strengths and weaknesses in innovation.

The diverse metrics offered by the GII enable the monitoring of performance and comparison of advancements among economies in the same region or income category.

Furthermore, R&D should do away with academics and focus instead on engaging with companies that are innovating. The time-consuming process of obtaining approval for IP raises concerns in start-up owners, as it is claimed that investors do not have the patience to wait for IP approvals.

“Things that should not be difficult, don’t make it difficult,” Samsilah says, adding that universities that run fundamental research in the medical and agricultural sectors go through a lengthy process to properly validate IPs.

In an effort to help the industry, she suggests widening the pool of technology transfer professional (TTP) jobs and expertise.

“Currently, there is a problem of recognition for the profession [TTPs]. Technology transfers are now being done by university researchers and science officers. Universities and industry players need to upskill and create a special job scope under existing posts for researchers and science officers in universities, for them to be promoted based on their job scope.”

On registered technology transfer professionals (RTTPs), Samsilah says ITMA has been providing RTTP training and making sure that the talent pool is retained for this role.

“IPs are not just simple papers. We have IPs in the form of apps and software where most of the time they are single licensed,” she says, on the complexity of TTPs’ job scope, knowledge and skills in the field.

She adds that increasing the number of RTTPs would help in the management of specific areas of expertise that require more focus on specific knowledge and hands-on skills.

“Besides, university science and technology parks like the Malaysian Research Accelerator for Technology & Innovation (MRANTI) help us at this stage to incubate ideas, technology and the business. Through this, ideas can grow into a viable business in a controlled environment.”