From patents to products – taking university IP out of the lab and onto the market
“95% of patents filed by universities are never commercialised” was the opening gambit at the SETsquared organised Marblar event at the end of February – a direct quote from Marblar’s CEO and co-founder Daniel Perez.
As a researcher doing a PhD into business networks and collaboration modes and an intern with the SETsquared Partnership, I was surprised by this and intrigued to find out more.
Marblar is an online platform that uses crowdsourcing to match innovative technologies with real world problems. It was born out of a desire to see more science and patents make it out of the lab, where they can have a positive impact as new products and services.
Hosted at the Engine Shed, SETsquared Bristol’s fantastic new home, the purpose of the Marblar event was to get students thinking about the potential commercial impact of research early in their academic career.
Most of my fellow delegates from across the five SETsquared universities were undergraduates from a range a disciplines and it was the first time that they had ever seen a patent.
After some initial icebreakers, we were divided into groups. Each group were given 10 – 15 patents (all real and taken from the Marbler website) to look at and the challenge was to come up with commercial products that could be developed from these patents.
This was a tricky challenge. As a very practical researcher I’m so used to starting with a problem and then researching ways to solve it. This process flipped this ingrained way of working on its head. We were starting with potential solutions and having to think up problems they could solve and what the commercial application would be.
But it definitely got our creative juices flowing. A ‘smart fridge’ which gives you information about the food inside of it - which foods are going off and offering discounts from online retailers on the items you consume most regularly – was just one of the interesting product ideas to come out of it.
Following a session on the Business Model Canvas – a very visual way of building a business plan – we then had to form our own teams to develop products for the patent that interested us most.
My team came up with a ‘careband’, a wristband that sends messages triggered by hand gestures, for use in hospitals or for elderly people. The product would incorporate some existing patents to send pulses to attract relatives or medical attention in order to get help for the bedridden person with minimal directional motion needed. The idea didn’t win the £200 prize, but the experience of pitching to live panel was at first terrifying but also very satisfying, especially after getting some good feedback from the judges.
The winning team came up with an idea for a new smart watch that transfers instant info via hand shaking. It comes with an app called ‘zap-app’ that keeps your info and sends messages to let you know that you just received the info of the person you shook hands with. Perfect during networking activity to remember who you met and why they were interesting or for social activities.
Events like this are really important. Whether the students decide to stay in academia, go into the world of work or even start their own businesses, it gives them a framework and the confidence to be bolder, more innovative and entrepreneurial. It’s left a lasting impression on me and will definitely influence my research going forward.