Approximately 80% to 85% of the value of a company lies in its intellectual assets. One sub-group of these assets - intellectual property - is well recognised, but other intellectual assets can be more difficult to identify. These are often classed as, for example, “know-how”, “human capital” or “customer capital”. The corporate sector is beginning to appreciate that these other intellectual assets have potential value, although not always in dollar terms, and is embarking on ways to identify and capture them.

But what about Australian universities and research institutions – are they keeping up to date with these trends, and what role do intellectual assets play in knowledge transfer?

Using core IP metrics, including invention disclosures, patent filings and licensing income, as a gauge, the answer is a qualified yes.

Academic research outcomes
Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia Inc (KCA) - the peak body representing organisations and individuals associated with knowledge transfer from public organisations, and the Australian equivalent of the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) - has previously reported that between 2000 and 2007 there was a compound annual growth in invention disclosures of around 8%; although the most recent Commercialisation Metrics Survey 2010 (released in February 2012) indicated that from 2008 to 2010 the number of invention disclosures and patent applications filed had plateaued to some extent (Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia Inc, Commercialisation Metrics Survey Report 2012, February 2012).

Research collaboration and contract and consultancy revenues have continued to grow over the past eight years, and it is in these areas of knowledge transfer that the less recognised intellectual assets can provide additional leverage in negotiating a research collaboration. Indeed, KCA recognised one of the key elements of intellectual assets when it stated that:

Universities and other public funded research agencies contain a great pool of human capital that industry and government can tap into to help them adjust to a rapidly shifting world environment and stay competitive and relevant.

But are Australian universities and research institutions effectively and consistently recognising, identifying and capturing these other intellectual assets?

Metrics for measuring commercial success of intellectual assets
If intellectual assets were managed more effectively, what would be the outcome? It could be argued that there might be:

  • An increase in captured opportunities, which could lead to subsequent licence revenues and additional research funding (the virtuous cycle).
  • Improved knowledge transfer. 
  • An appreciation of the role which the technology transfer office plays in this, both within and outside of an institution.

While increasing income from knowledge transfer is a clear benefit for publicly funded research institutions and an accepted metric for success, funding bodies (and government departments) are beginning to question what the other metrics of success are.

At the recent KCA Annual Conference 2011, Robin Rasor, president of AUTM and director of licensing at the University of Michigan, presented some ideas on what these new metrics might include (Robin Rasor, "University Economic Development and Tech Commercialisation: Changes in University Strategies", presented at the KCA Annual Conference 2011, "Innovation through Collaboration", 9th to 11th November 2011, Auckland, New Zealand). She listed five broad headings as possible areas for future metrics evaluation in an academic environment: 

  • Tracking business performance data from companies that utilise institutional intellectual property (measured through employment growth, taxation outcomes and markets accessed). 
  • Faculty consulting. 
  • Alumni employment paths. 
  • University investments in tech transfer/commercialisation. 
  • Impact on industry of university research, and technical or technological assistance (a social outcome).

Growing investment in the virtuous cycle
These "new" metrics are difficult to measure, but arguably represent a fuller picture of successful knowledge transfer. It will be readily appreciated that the less tangible intellectual assets fall within these areas.

If these new metrics are measured and provide an indication of positive outcomes for knowledge transfer, the data can be used to promote and justify the importance of investing in and commercialising research outcomes, both internally and externally to funding bodies, investors and the public (who, after all, provide the funding through taxation).

John Golding
Email: j.golding@watermark.com.au
 

This article first appeared in IAM magazine. For further information please visit www.iam-magazine.com