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On Knowledge Exploitation & Academia

There is no question that the primary mission of most academic institutions is the creation and propagation of knowledge. It is not possible, nor I believe always desirable, for basic or fundamental research to be associated with tangible commercial applications. Of course, if such applications become possible, just like the use of quantum mechanics in iPhone technology, it is all well and good. But you don’t normally set out on the basic research journey with commercial applications in mind. So, whilst knowledge exploitation is a welcome pursuit in academic and research institutions, not all academic researchers are likely to seek ways to commercialize their research output. Many will be simply content with a curiosity driven academic research focus and the pursuit of teaching and publications. Technology transfer offices within Universities and Research Institutes are therefore very careful to stress the voluntary nature of the engagement process; that they are there to help should the researcher wish to commercialize their research and be involved in consulting or a start-up. Conversely, they also need to be careful not to succumb to the initial impulse of viewing all attempts at commercialization as engendering a conflict of interest. In the past couple of years, I had the pleasure of working with Oxford University Innovation, in applying their processes and know-how to creating a knowledge exploitation capability at The Cyprus institute. This experience only underscored the point that there is indeed a “valley of death” between most successful research results and the funding of commercialization efforts through start-ups. Having said that, making a real effort through the design and implementation of appropriate policies and processes as well as through internal marketing, is very well worth it, even if only a fraction of the researcher community is interested in making the journey.

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