Within technology transfer, licensing has been predominantly undertaken by research focused universities. Typically, it has been centered around patent exploitation and high-value exclusive licences.
However, there is a shift happening. As academics become more enterprising and new online tools become available, the opportunities to capitalise on research outputs that are of lower value, but with a potentially wider distribution to a global market, are becoming more apparent. Academics too are hungry for ways to distribute the outputs of their research, either to generate income or to further its reach (and demonstrate impact).
That said, it’s not easy. A gap exists between the way tech transfer and enterprise offices are traditionally structured and how express licensing works at its best.
Organisations focused primarily on patents, licensing deals and spin-outs tend to have by comparison, large legal teams, business managers and backroom admin support and inevitably use almost the same negotiation-heavy process to license non-exclusive terms as they do for a 6-figure exclusive deal. This ends up costing the organisation in resource time more than they earn back in licensing fees.
Those organisations focused on other aspects of tech transfer such as consultancy and knowledge transfer, tend to have a much smaller legal resource and aren’t geared in the same way to exploit licensing opportunities; perhaps because the outputs aren’t generally suitable for exclusive licensing. In this case, it’s not having a model to start from that can prove the blocker.
In both these cases, and for two different reasons, we have the same resulting problem — licensing opportunities that fall between the cracks; typically software, algorithms, research tools, biological materials, models, templates, healthcare tools, surveys and even media, such as image, video and graphical assets.
Interestingly, it may be the enterprise focused organisations that gain speed on this issue. They’re generally leaner and able to define a similarly lean solution that doesn’t involve breaking well established protocols and practices. They also tend to be more focused on applied research, more easily translatable to non-exclusive licences.
At UCL Business we developed an online licensing platform called E-lucid to mitigate some of these issues, focusing on automation and creating a stack of intuitive tools geared towards tech transfer. We’ve subsequently gone on to provide the service to other organisations with similar needs.
These are some of the pain-points E-lucid looks to solve — maybe they sound familiar:
1. Back and forth with the legal team costs too much money
Solution: Do the work up front, and make it as generic as you can. Commission a set of licences that can accommodate 80–90% of these non-exclusive use cases. We’ve seen this happen within open source software licensing, MTAs and Easy Access IP (which incidentally can all be used within E-lucid) and it can apply to commercial licences too.
2. Someone has to manage the process of approving a licence
Solution: It’s the back and forth between researchers, licensees, your legal team, their legal team and anyone else involved that is the real time sink for licensing. With E-lucid you can set-up automated workflows which kick in when the licensing process begins. It will email, in the order you define, everyone and anyone who needs to approve or be informed about a given order. All details can be quickly scanned and approvals given with a click of a button. It even reminds users who haven’t responded, meaning you free up project management time and peace of mind.
3. Negotiations suck away your time (and sometimes your will to live)
Solution: You don’t want to be haggling over something that costs £100. Publicise your licence up front with clear terms and in most cases it will reduce the amount of negotiation to zero.
4. Academics & Researchers want to be in the loop
Solution: The approvals workflow allows the inventor/author to be automatically included in the licensing process. They can be nominated to approve a process or simply informed of who is licensing their research and where they’re from.
5. People need to know they can license it
Solution: This might sound simple but there is real benefit in having a place where people can read about the product, read academic references, supporting material and contact the people involved directly. It gives a place to be discovered (via search engines) and a place to link to (via academic web pages, publications and other sources). The licence terms are easily accessible, with clear pricing and the interface is familiar to anyone who has ever purchased online.
6. One size doesn’t fit all
Solution: Lastly, one of the main barriers to online licensing has been that it has been thought of in the wrong way for many years. Often, the go-to has been ‘let’s build a giant centralised IP marketplace’. The problem with this is that no ‘customer’ is looking for that. In fact, no supplier is either. What customers want is a clear way to license the exact thing they need. For example, no one browses for a cell-line; they have already identified what they want and now they require a quick, easy way to license it.
From an organisation’s perspective, most of the technologies we deal with are different (and in a multitude of ways). E-lucid is built to be adaptable. Each product can be finely tuned to the needs of that particular product and each storefront can be tailored to the brand and positioning of each particular organisation.
How could E-lucid work in your organisation?
E-lucid allows you to create a long-tail licensing strategy that tidies up a lot of the loose ends. It helps build a manageable programme for engaging with projects and products typically not viable under your current model (but valued by your academics all the same).
It’s also a long-term income source. Its automated processes mean the burden is lifted from individual business managers and you have a central place to point to for licensing non-exclusive materials.
It opens doors to relationships with more of your academics — allowing you to provide value to a percentage of your organisation’s population previously underrepresented in your portfolio.
For those organisations relatively new to licensing, it offers a manageable step into licensing and a channel for the software, healthcare tools, publications and more that are coming out of your institution. It allows you to front-load and commission a set of reusable licences, saving money on legal fees. The platform is fully-hosted and technically-supported so little or no internal IT resources are required.
Finally, E-lucid can give you a visible (and transparent) dual licensing economy where open source or academic licences can be placed alongside income generating commercial licences. That’s potential income and stats for your REF case studies — all in one place.
So, if you’re not currently licensing online ask yourself why not and if E-lucid can help you overcome that problem?
E-lucid is a hosted platform, developed at UCL’s commercial arm UCLB and used by leading universities across the UK. If you’d like to read more about E-lucid’s features visit e-lucid.com. To arrange a demo or simply chat through your needs, email firstname.lastname@example.org.