From invention to innovation: commercialisation of publicly-funded research

Thesis Title:

30 Years After the Bay-Dole Act: Rethinking the Australian Research Commercialisation Experience

Abstract of Thesis:

By granting universities the rights to assert ownership of intellectual property (IP) resulting from United States (US) federally sponsored research, the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 has stimulated considerable interest from policymakers around the world. Inspired by the US example, the Australian government has introduced a similar patent policy to encourage the commercialisation of publicly funded research. Research institutions have quickly responded to this policy and established technology transfer offices (TTOs) to manage the identification, protection and exploitation of IP created by their employees. It is often assumed that this IP-based approach accelerates the transfer of new inventions from academia to industry and helps to generate national benefits and social return from public investment in research.

This thesis provides a case study of the commercialisation of publicly funded research in the biotechnology sector in Australia. Following mainly a qualitative approach, the study explores the rise of the research commercialisation phenomenon by tracking its historical origins, key turning points and their present ramifications. It also examines the perceptions, motivation and experiences of various participants such as academic scientists, technology transfer managers, entrepreneurs/CEOs and private investors.

At the individual level, an important finding of this study was that the term research commercialisation is understood differently by different participants. Two main views were identified which not only differ semantically, but also in their objectives, timescales, assumptions and measures of success. The clarification of these views enables the participants to better understand each other and minimise unproductive debates.

At the institutional level, this study revealed that by focusing on the exploitation of IP resulting from publicly funded research, Australia’s current TTO-based structural arrangements may interfere with the flow of scientific discoveries from academia to industry and encourage academic inventors and entrepreneurs to bypass the TTOs. Explanations for these unexpected outcomes are given and suggestions for possible improvement are discussed.

Although this study is based on the biotechnology sector in Australia, the research findings may have important implications for any other sectors and for other countries with similar structural arrangements.

Advisor: Dr Robert Dalitz


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