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The Warsaw Voice » Other » September 16, 2009
Intellectual Property
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Protecting Scientists' Achievements
September 16, 2009   
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Polish scientists are learning the ropes of intellectual property management. Today the whole world is bending over backwards to make sure that intellectual property is properly utilized, promoted and protected, says Prof. Józef Modelski, director of the Warsaw University of Technology's Institute of Radioelectronics.

Modelski is also director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), an international organization that brings together almost half a million specialists in electrical engineering, electronics, telecommunications, IT, nuclear and medical electronics, and space technology. The IEEE runs many periodicals from the Philadelphia List and organizes major international conferences.

The key to a competitive economy
Modelski is directly involved in problems that were discussed at the 2nd International Intellectual Property Management Forum in Warsaw and Cracow in March. The forum, entitled "IP Management: The Key to a Competitive Economy," featured a number of conferences and symposia that attracted many foreign researchers experienced in working with industry and academics from the world's best universities that have blazed the trail in transferring inventions to business. During the event they shared their experiences with their Polish colleagues.

"Intellectual property management is one of the most important topics in the world today," Modelski says.

According to Modelski, Poland's greatest asset is the huge potential of knowledge represented by Polish scientists and the creativity of its research and academic centers. Its weakness, on the other hand, is a historically determined absence of the habit or tradition-of the kind that has developed in the West-of turning this knowledge into a patent and getting it implemented. Another problem, Modelski says, is a mistaken policy of the government, which keeps financing all sectors equally just like the state did under communism, instead of selecting and supporting fields that are of key importance to Poland's development.

"What's the point of patenting something in Poland, on a very confined user and buyer market? We should strive for European patents, which cost money, true, but offer a chance for greater profits," Modelski says. "Key projects have to be launched on the international market. Though only a small percentage of patents are a commercial success, unless you keep trying you stand no chance of success. It's the same all over the world, only a few percent of good ideas find business applications. There is no other way than to take that risk."

Bigger budget needed
"To put the results of their research to commercial use, universities need much bigger budgets," says Modelski. "They also need to know how to put this money to a good use. Universities should only pay for patents that pass the test on the market."

According to Modelski, people who make decisions on funding for industry should focus on developing innovative products-"something like a Polish Nokia"-and invest in the development of selected sectors.

"Nearly every scientist committed to their work thinks their field is the most important," Modelski says. "Government institutions, however, have to be objective and make a realistic assessment of projects that research centers offer for practical use. Naturally, I promote my own field, and within it-the development of wireless sensors. But I have to give priority to information technology and bioengineering. Those working in these fields are implementing their ideas all over the world, including highly developed markets."

Poland lacks a long-term vision of development, says Modelski. Scientists can tell politicians what they think is important. However, it is independent experts grouped in interdisciplinary teams who should prepare analyses and choose the "gems" in which it is worth investing money in order to recoup it many times over later, Modelski says.

Many research projects in Poland are commissioned by industry. Problems with technology transfer are not exclusively the fault of scientists who do not implement their technologies, Modelski says. "Neither is it just a matter of funding shortages at universities," he adds. "Industry in Poland is poor as well; in some sectors, Western consortia treat us as nothing but a sales market. The only way out of this tough situation is to choose sectors that could form the foundation of a knowledge-based economy in the future."

Flagship sectors
There are many strong fields of science and industry which could become Poland's flagship sectors with increased funding, according to Modelski. Polish IT specialists are a powerful force, setting up many new companies in recent years. Polish engineers have also pushed through many ideas and implemented them all over the world, also on highly developed markets. Biomedical engineering is another area worth investing in, Modelski says.

The Warsaw University of Technology's Institute of Radioelectronics, of which Modelski is head, has maintained close cooperation with industry for many years. Modelski's research interests have long focused on microwave technology, radio communications and television. According to Modelski, investing in these areas is risk-free and profitable.

Scientists from the Warsaw University of Technology's Institute of Radioelectronics are working on radar systems for both civilian and defense applications, Modelski says. The teams of Prof. Stanisław Rosłoniec and Prof. Tadeusz Morawski are closely working with the Telecommunications Research Institute (PIT). The institute's products are sold on international markets, including Asia. The greatest achievements in cooperation with external companies are those of Wojciech Wojtasiak, PhD Eng., whose team is working on advanced transceiver components. A few years ago, a team led by Prof. Wojciech Gwarek developed some advanced software with electromagnetic simulators that was sold to the world's leading companies from the sector, Modelski says. In this case, the technology transfer resulted in the establishment of a spin-off company by university employees.


Patent Protection

A patent is an essential business tool in today's marketplace where the rule of thumb is that a good product will always get copied, experts say. This affects trademarks as well as innovative designs and technology. Patent protection is designed to eliminate copying and unfair competition.
"The process for registering a patent in Poland is currently the same as elsewhere in Europe because our law for the protection of industrial property has had to comply with the European standard ever since Poland joined the EU," says Grażyna Padee, a spokeswoman for the Polish Patent Office. "However, without a doubt a problem exists in Polish firms' lack of understanding of what protection of industrial property means and of its importance. Because of this lack of understanding, they are reluctant to embark on what is an unusually complicated and long procedure to obtain ownership rights."

Patents in other countries are usually more expensive than in Poland, according to Padee. The decision to patent a product abroad must be based on a profound analysis of risk and profitability. Besides countries' own patent offices, there is also the European Patent Office, which acts on notification from the country in which rights to a given product are to be protected.
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