Sunday, 2 June 2013

Exploiting academic IP in Turkey and beyond: a conference report

This year's “International Conference on Managing Intellectual Property in Universities” took place from 23 to 25 May 2013 at the Bogazici University, Istanbul,being the third of the annual conferences that have been held since 2010 on its historic and picturesque campus. This year’s conference happened to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the establishment of this educational institution which was founded in 1863 during the Ottoman Empire, as the first ever American college of higher education outside the USA.  

The following guest post is a report from Turkish scholar Mehmet Artemel on this year's event: 
"The theme and content for this year’s conference appeared to have been influenced by a recent governmental initiative through the Ministry of Science, Industry and Technology and The Scientific and the Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) which resulted in the provision of substantial funds amounting to 10 million Turkish Liras (equivalent to a little over three and a half million pounds sterling) spread over 10 years, for the establishment of technology transfer offices in 10 Turkish universities that were selected and announced in March 2013. 
The ten universities (Bogazici, Ege, Gazi, Hacettepe, Koc, Middle East Technical, Ozyegin, Sabanci, Selcuk, and Yildiz Technical) were among the top 50 universities as listed in the “Entrepreneurial and Innovative University Index of Turkey” which had lodged an application in response to the first call for Support Programme 1513 for Technology Transfer which was launched in November 2012 (see European Commission’s ERAWATCH)
 The three-day event proceeded as follows: an all-day conference open to the public on the 23rd; the following day, a closed plenary session with the representatives of the 10 universities that had been allocated funds; a full-day training course on patent searching by two experts (Mustafa Cakir and Aykut Gulalanlar) from Ege University on the 25th. Opening speeches were delivered by the Rector of Bogazici University (Gülay Barbarosoğlu), the Chairman of Logo Business Solutions (Tuğrul Tekbulut) and the Minister of Science, Industry and Technology (Nihat Ergün). The first panel on “International, regional and national strategies of public institutions on the role of TTOs to enhance university & industry relations”, which was moderated by the Vice Rector of Bogazici University (Lale Akarun), kicked off with presentations by the representatives of WIPO (Olga Spasic), EPO (Thomas Bereuter), and The Council of Higher Education (Durmuş Günay). Missing was the President of the Turkish Patent Institute (Habip Asan) who was reported to have cancelled his trip to Istanbul at the very last minute on account of the draft IP bill which is expected to go through the Parliament in the very near future. The draft bill among other things incorporates a revolutionary amendment to the ownership of IP in Turkish universities. Hitherto, Turkey was the only other country in Europe other than Sweden and Italy, which subscribed to the “professor’s privilege” regime whereby universities could not, except in limited circumstances, lay claim to IP emanating from R&D conducted by faculty within the university. The new regulations will herald the beginning of a new era which many hope will trigger and emulate the economic success which was witnessed in the US following the enactment of the Bayh-Dole Act. 
It remains to be seen whether a change in the legal regime in today’s global economic environment will yield similar results in Turkey. But since not much headway appears to have been made in generating and exploiting IP that arises in universities under the current system, there does not seem to be any harm in trying a different route which seems to have proven successful despite recent criticisms that are being voiced against the Bayh-Dole Act in the US. Equally, patience will be a requisite virtue since as related by experts from the UK and the US, tangible results and monetary returns of technology transfer have been known to take a long time to mature.
 The second panel was chaired by yours truly with speakers from the technology transfer offices of Cambridge (Richard Jennings), Oxford (Manuel Fuertes) and Imperial College (Brian Graves) as well as the former director of technology transfer at Cornell University (Richard Cahoon) and the vice rector of Middle East Technical University (Volkan Atalay) in Ankara. Presentations by Richard Jennings and Manuel Fuertes were enlightening in that they revealed how successful Cambridge and Oxford were at generating income through the provision of consultancy services – a function which would not seem to have been given due weight and recognition in either other presentations or among the set of skills to be expected from the newly established TTOs. Brian Graves of Imperial College was keen to stress that the success of a TTO was dependent on its ability to attract world-class management people with industry experience. Richard Cahoon who was an inventor and patentee in his own right, suggested that reference should not be made to technology transfer, which had always existed in some form or another but of IP-based technology transfer.
 The third panel in the afternoon of the 23rd was devoted to “Assessment tools, methodologies and due diligence”. Moderated by the Managing Partner of Inveon (Serhat Görgün), representatives of institutional and private investment funds as well as IP commercialization facilitators (Taj Mattu of Foresight Science and Technology UK; Claude Kaplan of IP-Pragmatics UK, Shirley Gee of Keiretsu, Jacques Darcy of the European Investment Fund; Philip Purnell of Thomson Reuters) shared their experience and provided insight as to opportunities which encouraged them to be forthcoming with funds. The final session on day one culminated in the presentation of an innovative model specifically devised for the Turkish case by Suat Genç, the Acting Vice-President for Strategy and Technology Development at TUBITAK Marmara Research Centre. Dr. Genç’s suggestion for a “fast way out for Turkish Universities and SMEs” turned upon an efficient cooperation and interaction between four entities, namely the “inventor”, “investor”, “industrializer”, and “incubator”. The “iFour” model” (including the term “industrializer”) as coined by Dr. Genç was proposed as the most appropriate strategy for Turkish TTOs in particular. As would be expected in an IP conference, a listener queried Dr. Genç as to whether he was not worried about publicly sharing his innovative idea to which more than several IP enthusiasts in the audience zealously offered their advice. On Friday the 24th, a closed session was held for presentations by the representatives of each one of the 10 universities followed by observations and suggestions by the representative of WIPO in collaboration with the representatives of foreign universities, which in turn was followed by speeches by the Secretary for the Committee of Technology Transfer Mechanisms at TUBITAK (Ahmet Riza Balim) and Suat Genç. While the representatives from TUBITAK did not mince their words when it came to raising their criticisms as to what they perceived to be inefficient practices that seemed counterproductive for IP based technology transfer, they also came across as refreshingly frank and open minded when they expressed their readiness to take on board suggestions and contributions that would be offered by universities for the improvement of the system. The representative of WIPO was invited to provide a brief synopsis which incorporated the feedback from the foreign delegates, expressing their suggestions and comments. The day came to a close after a lunch hosted by the European Investment Fund at a historic mansion on the Bosphorus where Jacques Darcy of the EIF gave a presentation which outlined their investment strategies and opportunities in the Turkish market.

 IP Finance thanks Professor Artemel for his report.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From my experience in biotech tech transfer works best when the research is ground-breaking. Oxford and Cambridge TTOs are doing well because the research that is done there is ground-breaking. TTOs at other universities, where frankly the research is more mundane, are I think finding it more difficult to obtain broad patent protection and more difficult to commercialise. I don't know what type of research is done in Turkish universities, but unless it is high quality research tech transfer will be difficult.