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The Warsaw Voice » Other » October 28, 2009
Intellectual Property
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Supporting Inventors
October 28, 2009   
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The Warsaw University of Technology is preparing to launch an Enterprise Development Center, an institution designed to support inventors at every stage of their work. Institutions of this kind help inventors by taking care of the entire project development process, says Prof. Andrzej Rabczenko, one of the academics behind the idea to establish the Enterprise Development Center.

The center will operate as a technology incubator, Rabczenko says, promoting the development of prototypes and the transfer of inventions to business. It will foster contacts with experts and help determine the target group of customers, find manufacturers ready to produce innovative devices on an industrial scale and check if some of the devices' parameters are not protected by a patent.

The Warsaw University of Technology's partners in the project are the Confederation of Polish Employers and the Polish Chamber of Commerce for High Technology.

The Enterprise Development Center aims to develop relations with partners abroad. It will work with Stanford University, North Carolina State University and the University of Maryland. According to Rabczenko, the U.S. market is an excellent source of knowledge about technology transfer for European countries, South Korea, Taiwan, China and other nations.

In the United States, more than 20 universities offer master's courses in intellectual property management, according to Krzysztof ¦witalski, a member of the U.S.-Polish Trade Council, an organization that offers its members help in obtaining know-how from U.S. universities and global corporations. Top-ranking U.S. universities, such as Stanford and UC Berkeley, and leading scientists dealing with the transfer of know-how to business in the United States are a good example to follow for European schools when it comes to teaching IP management, ¦witalski says. This will allow prospective graduates to learn about standards that have been well tested in the U.S. economy and that can also be applied in the European Union. "There are possibilities for building a bridge between Silicon Valley and Poland by promoting IP management," ¦witalski says.

Few patents
Not many researchers patent their inventions in Poland, Rabczenko says. Will the number of patent applications increase in the future?

"Better patent registration statistics will not solve Poland's problem with innovation," Rabczenko says. "A patent is only a tool, not a success in its own right. The main goal is the practical implementation of an idea."

According to Rabczenko, the strength of an economy depends on technology and research results that can be translated into specific products. Technology incubators contribute to the transfer of research results to business.
The Warsaw University of Technology's Technology Transfer Center works to promote the idea of technology brokerage, or the business of bringing partners together to promote technology transfer. Bogusław Węgliński, who works at the Technology Transfer Center and is chairman of the IP Management Poland company, says that the key to a successful technology transfer is demand for innovation rather than the supply of inventions that no one has ordered. "I believe in innovations that are needed in business," Węgliński says. "If a company has a problem and researchers are able to solve it by increasing productivity or reducing costs then such cooperation will certainly become a fact."

Prof. Wiesław Kotarba, a deputy dean at the Warsaw University of Technology's Faculty of Management and former head of the Polish Patent Office, says that it makes sense to limit patent protection to one's home country if the inventor does not plan to offer their product abroad. Such patent protection does not cost much and guarantees a monopoly for the inventor, Kotarba says. Holding a patent in Poland means that no one else in the world should receive a patent for an identical product and even if such a patent is issued it can be invalidated, he says.

"On the other hand, if one wants to target foreign markets it is reasonable to seek a European or international patent," Kotarba says.

When and how
According to Kotarba, the problem of intellectual property management boils down to knowing when exactly this property needs to be protected and how. In evaluating scientific careers, credits should be given to researchers not only for patent registrations but also for licenses granted and patents sold, he says.

The best way to protect an invention is to refrain from disclosing it publicly rather than seek patent protection, Kotarba says. Keeping one's know how secret is the best policy in intellectual property management.

But not all solutions can be kept secret, Kotarba concedes. In the case of products where-after they have been disassembled into pieces-it is easy to see how they have been made, a patent is necessary.

"Another strategy is to patent one's inventions in the United States, despite the high cost involved, because there will always be someone there ready to pay big money to buy the patent," Kotarba says. "American researchers patent the largest number of inventions in the world, and foreigners patent the largest number of inventions in the United States."

Master's in IP management
Six Polish universities-the Warsaw School of Economics, the Warsaw University of Technology, the Medical University in ŁódĽ, the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, the University of Warsaw, and the Warsaw University of Life Sciences-have formed a consortium to develop a master's course in intellectual property management. The course will offer specialist interdepartmental education and will be one of the most innovative in Europe. The universities are working to develop IP management standards as part of the Innovation Creator program of the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education. The Warsaw University of Technology is the coordinator of the project.

According to Prof. Marzenna Weresa, head of the World Economy Research Institute at the Warsaw School of Economics (SGH), U.S. universities are a good model when it comes to educating IP managers. Not many university courses in Europe concern intellectual property protection, Weresa says, and those that exist focus on the legal aspects of the issue. Meanwhile, IP management is an interdisciplinary problem-not just legal, but also economic, technological and managerial, Weresa says.

"Most services today are based on intellectual property," says Weresa. "Both scientific research and services in sectors such as education, consulting, telecommunications, logistics and banking require physical infrastructure; but it's knowledge that matters most to the customer. Protecting knowledge in the service sector is much more difficult than in industry."

Where to get the money
Krzysztof Pietraszkiewicz , head of the Polish Banks' Association, says that few banks are interested in financing risky projects even if these involve innovation. Banks are not eager to grant loans against the collateral of intangible assets, Pietraszkiewicz says.

According to experts, the innovativeness of the Polish economy could be enhanced by measures designed to support, stimulate and encourage innovation.

"There are several kinds of innovations: product, process, marketing and technological innovations," says Pietraszkiewicz. "Those seeking financial support for their projects must be able to prove that their research findings will be successful on the market. Government programs and programs carried out by regional authorities are essential to enhancing the innovativeness of the economy. The range of instruments encouraging risk taking should be expanded."

Public institutions and special guarantee institutions need to accept part of the risk involved in a project to enable companies to obtain loans for innovative projects, Pietraszkiewicz says. Companies should be encouraged to set up consortia and work with the scientific community and the government in this area. Initiatives such as the Enterprise Development Center help enhance the innovativeness of the Polish economy, Pietraszkiewicz says.

Blazing the trail
As they look for ways to sell their inventions to business, Polish researchers are taking part in an international debate on intellectual property management. Earlier this year, a host of scientists, entrepreneurs and academics from around the world discussed intellectual property management at an international conference in Warsaw and Cracow.

The meeting featured a number of conferences and symposia that attracted many foreign researchers experienced in working with industry and academics from universities that have blazed the trail in transferring inventions to business.

According to Prof. Józef Modelski, a director at the international Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), universities need bigger budgets to put the results of their research to commercial use. "Universities should only pay for patents that pass the test on the market," Modelski says.

Prof. Piotr Moncarz from Stanford University says that researchers need more information on intellectual property protection and the principles of technology transfer.

According to Prof. Tadeusz Pietrucha from the Medical University in ŁódĽ, the Polish market needs experts in managing intellectual property. "Graduates of these courses will work with companies and will be able to tell them whether they should apply for a patent for a specific project or keep it as a trade secret," says Pietrucha. "They will advise companies on who should be the owner of a trademark: whether this should be the company that makes the product, or whether it would be better to transfer this intellectual property and trademark ownership to another company. In such a case, if something goes wrong and the manufacturer goes bankrupt, the trademark will retain its value and the intangible asset will be preserved."

According to Prof. Władysław Włosiński, chairman of the Polish Academy of Sciences' technical sciences division, many scientists are emotionally involved with their research and often disclose details of their achievements even though these should be kept secret and protected by a patent. "An ability to skillfully write a paper or conference presentation so as not to reveal valuable information is what IP management is all about," Włosiński says.

Prof. Piotr Wolański from the Warsaw University of Technology says that researchers need to make efforts to get industry interested in their achievements.

Prof. Alojzy Szymański, rector of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, says teachers should try to create an environment for innovators in which their ideas would receive legal protection as well as financial and specialist support. "Technology parks should help transfer worthwhile projects developed by young scientists to the economy," Szymański says, adding that the Warsaw University of Life Sciences has signed an agreement to establish such a park in Warsaw together with the University of Warsaw, the Warsaw School of Economics, the Warsaw University of Technology, and City Hall. The plan provides for using EU funds to build facilities including laboratories, institutions and offices to help young people put their ideas into practice, Szymański says.
Piotr Bartosz

A major conference on technology transfer will be held in Cracow Oct. 28-30 as part of an annual meeting of the Association of European Science and Technology Transfer Professionals (ASTP), an international organization with 22,700 members.
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