What are the challenges of public research commercialization?

Published on 03 April 2024 Read 25 min

On average, public research in France generates more than 1 billion euros in revenues per year, thanks in particular to research contracts and licensing agreements. An innovation detected in a research laboratory can be directed down a number of different pathways, including start-up creation, licensing or industrial partnerships. The challenge of commercialization is to promote the competitiveness of national research structures and their positioning on the international scene.
Alcimed looks at the challenges faced by research institutes in providing support for the valorization of research projects, as well as the approaches adopted by these institutes.

What is public research commercialization?

The valorization of public research is defined as all the means that enable the conversion of ideas and knowledge generated by research into products or services for the market or products for the market. The objectives and methods of research exploitation depend on the innovation policy deployed at national level and at the level of each research institute or university. These objectives may be to ensure the general reputation of the institute, to make it more attractive to industrial companies, to encourage researchers to become more entrepreneurial, or to bring as many solutions as possible to market. Valorisation can have economic ends, but its primary aim is to increase the visibility and impact of research, and to enhance the value of the knowledge produced.

In France, valorization, fully defined in 1980 as one of the objectives of scientific research, has gradually become a pillar of public research and innovation programs. Most current calls for research projects include in their evaluation a section dedicated to the strategy for exploiting results, sharing value with partners and intellectual property repartition. These aspects are fully integrated into the specifications of many research programs, notably the recent “Investissement d’Avenir” programs.

Which are the challenges of public research commercialization?

Challenge n°1: build a value-added strategy suited to your objectives

Establishing a clear valorization strategy with precise objectives is the first step towards concrete results and measurable performance. Objectives can vary from the number of projects detected and brought to maturity, to more precise expectations, such as the number of products reaching the market, the number of patents, etc. This is why the use of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), to be selected on a case-by-case basis, is necessary to best measure and monitor objectives, initially set and communicated.

Challenge n°2: ensure a continuum of support through close supervision of project leaders

To ensure the effectiveness of public research transfer programs, the research institute must provide a continuum of support for researchers at every stage of the transfer process (see Figure 1). This involves dedicated action programs at every stage, or the mobilization of a project team present from detection through to technology transfer. To reinforce the impact of public research valorization strategies and disseminate a culture of innovation, initiatives to raise awareness and provide training for project leaders, researchers and doctoral students are set up.

Awareness-raising aims to introduce or train researchers and students in the challenges of promoting projects and innovation. It also presents the options for technology transfer and the procedure for identifying, developing and protecting results.Project detection consists in proactively identifying the innovative potential of a project at an early stage of its development, by mobilizing the valorization teams. For the projects actually selected, the aim is to prepare for pre-maturation, once the potential for value creation has been identified.Prematuration is designed to support the early stages of technological development of projects with the greatest transfer potential. This support consists of technological and financial incentives for analytical and experimental proof of concept.The aim of maturation is to help the technology reach the market stage by finding partners or transfer companies, or by creating a spin-off. It requires technical, legal and marketing expertise.

Figure 1. The main stages in the valorization of research

Challenge n°3: capitalize on its ecosystem to optimize its public research commercialization strategy

In some countries, such as the United States, the entrepreneurial culture is well established. Awareness of business creation is encouraged by the ecosystem of incubators and investors with which the institutes work closely, and by the many examples of start-ups and “unicorns” that have emerged directly from leading universities and research institutions.

In France, despite the wide range of players involved in technology transfer in the French ecosystem (SATT technology transfer acceleration companies, institute technology transfer units, Carnot institutes, etc.), the innovation process is not always straightforward. In addition to a culture focused on scientific excellence, which needs to be improved, support structures sometimes have overlapping scopes of activity, making it difficult to identify the right contacts and complicating the process. As a result, numerous issues relating to the management of research output (patents, partnerships), the mobilization of funds to enable projects to mature and start-ups to emerge, and the remuneration of the company’s start-ups (revenue and property associated with innovations) emerge and sometimes bring innovation processes to a slow halt.

Challenge n°4: establish clear, well-defined rules for collaboration

Finally, in the case of collaboration between several research entities, and even more so with different organizational structures, it seems essential to establish rules to ensure the smooth running of future exchanges in relation to the spin-offs from the valorization of public research. In our experience, legal disputes are one of the main risks associated with commercialization processes. On the other hand, effective sharing of results is a guarantee of smooth collaborations and respect for stakeholders.

In particular, we need to reach agreement on the distribution of intellectual property and on the role of the valorization unit in the subsequent stages of the development process, whatever the chosen strategy.

All these issues involved in the commercialization of public research are factors to be taken into consideration when setting up a dedicated unit in a research institute, and when collaborating with different partners. It is essential to define your objectives, expectations and conditions in advance, and to identify the complementarities between development structures, supervisory bodies and mechanisms, in order to obtain concrete results and capitalize ever more effectively on the excellence of your research. Alcimed can help you with your projects. Don’t hesitate to contact our team!

About the author, 

Elsa, Project Manager in Alcimed’s Innovation and Public Policy team in France

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