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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » September 30, 2015
Wrocław University of Technology
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Tailor-Made Solutions
September 30, 2015   
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Wrocław University of Technology’s Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation helps scientists and researchers establish contacts with the business community.

“With almost 5,000 staff, 2,000 innovators and a portfolio of over 500 inventions, Wrocław University of Technology is able to offer products and services tailored to suit the needs of enterprises that approach us,” says Piotr Otręba from the Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation.

New contacts made easy

The Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation is part of the Center for Scientific and Technical Information, which was established to enable creative, resourceful and promising scientists to make contacts and work with the business community, including companies with specific requirements related to the sector in which they operate and with their complex legal environment.

Katarzyna Kozłowska, the deputy director of the Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation, says that being part of a public university, the center needs to abide by certain legal rules. “Businesses are governed by other rules,” says Kozłowska. “When it comes to formal matters, researchers are not always able to communicate well with businessmen and that is where we step in.”

Entrepreneurs and businessmen are free to visit the Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation or contact it by phone or e-mail to say what they need. Some want experts to assist them in complex research, or need an expert opinion. Others have a business idea, but lack the specialized knowledge to back it up. In the past, such people had nowhere to go to obtain help of this kind and instead, they carried out research on their own, often in a haphazard fashion. A telephone book would be their only resource and they ended up not where they wanted to be or encountered obstacles they could not overcome by themselves.

Large universities such as Wrocław University of Technology are complex organizations with experts in a lot of areas. They have all it takes to come up with almost any kind of service. Companies that seek assistance from the Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation do not always know what they actually want. Otręba says that sometimes he and his colleagues are approached by people who think the Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation is like a little store with only a handful of products to choose from. “But after they visit our university, browse through our portfolio and see the many things we have to offer and our list of researchers and innovators, they realize we are no retailer, but a wholesale outlet with hundreds of thousands of products,” says Otręba. He adds that Wrocław University of Technology will never be like a store with ready-made products. “We only offer customized solutions,” Otręba says. He adds that companies that ask the Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation for help frequently have a clear business idea and researchers have the know-how to match, but neither party knows how to start working with the other. “The Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation is there to help them find the best form of cooperation and lay out the rules of this,” Otręba says.

Protective umbrella

Researchers working with the Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation include Michał Pelczarski, D.Sc., from Wrocław University of Technology’s Faculty of Architecture. He has several patents and industrial designs to his name, in addition to a dozen pending patent applications (the patent procedure usually takes two-and-a-half years). Pelczarski says Wrocław University of Technology has opened a sort of protective umbrella over him. He has renounced full ownership of his projects and inventions and in return, the university covers the costs of patenting his inventions and extending patent rights. “The university also offers me support should dishonest producers try to use my invention without my knowledge and consent,” says Pelczarski. “Such protection is efficient and better than if I tried to do it on my own.”

Pelczarski remembers being approached by people who were keen to work with him, but who turned out not to be fully reliable in a long run. “Acting alone, I was unable to check who they were, where their money was coming from, whether they had other people’s companies behind them, and if I could trust them enough to sign a contract,” Pelczarski says. “The university has been helping me in this area as well.”

One of Pelczarski’s inventions is a method to improve traditional bulletproof vests. “The problem with traditional vests is that they only come in several sizes that do not fit everyone,” says Pelczarski. “It is important for a bulletproof vest to evenly absorb the energy from a bullet over a large area rather than in a small spot. The better a vest fits, the less harm bullets do to the wearer. When a bullet hits a traditional vest, it creates a conical indentation in it. Safety standards permit the indentation to be up to 4 cm deep. The wearer survives, but serious internal injuries sometimes occur as well as trauma from the impact.” Pelczarski improved traditional bulletproof vests with a mesh of inflatable tubes worn underneath the vest. The tubes are inflated to obtain the most comfortable fit. “A well-fitting vest like this ensures more effective protection, and the space between the tubes forms ventilation channels that prevent the body from overheating,” says Pelczarski. “The air inside produces a bigger buffer zone, keeping the vest 3 cm from the body.”

Pelczarski says that even though he obtained a patent for his invention and Polish companies showed some interest in it, nobody came up with a serious proposal to put the method into production. “I have never felt that my invention and the resulting patent has been immediately embraced by industry,” says Pelczarski.

Highlighting the benefits

According to Pelczarski, Poles at the moment are not keen to take advantage of Polish innovation and inventions. “There is no motivation to do that,” says Pelczarski. “In our country, nobody tells you: ‘Hey, you’ve invented something, great! We’ll all gain from it, things will get better.’ Instead, we think in a non-creative manner: Why should I care about Polish inventions when there is a big foreign producer knocking on my door, ready to do a lot to sell his products?” To Pelczarski, inventions and patents are still merely about satisfaction and credits earned at the university that give the inventor the freedom to pursue research. Financial rewards do not come into play until his inventions go into production.

According to Otręba from the Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation, patents and rights resulting from industrial design registration are what most frequently ensures protection for researchers in Poland. These matters are handled by the center’s Department of Intellectual Property. “Researchers and businesses frequently produce something together,” says Otręba. “Patent protection is necessary for the results of their work to be safeguarded legally, so that they benefit the inventor and the producer alike. If a joint project leads to shared intellectual property, we are there to take care of patent protection.” Otręba adds that Wrocław University of Technology has an impressive range of patents for inventions that could be put into production.

Meanwhile, Pelczarski says than neither Poland nor the EU as a whole are particularly inventor-friendly, as Europe lacks a single legal system to govern patents. “Each country has a system of its own,” says Pelczarski. “If I wanted to obtain patent protection for my bulletproof vests across the EU, I would have to patent my invention in each country. That is the kind of thing only the richest organizations could do. They can afford it and actually do it. The biggest giants submit around 2,000 patent applications a year. I can only afford to patent my inventions in Poland and only thanks to the university.” Pelczarski adds that as a Polish researcher without substantial funds at his disposal, he loses out to those who have the money.

Joint projects pay off

Andrzej Diakun, the CEO of the Elektrotim company and a Wrocław University of Technology graduate himself, says that partnering up with Wrocław University of Technology, and now the Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation, has been a positive experience over the years.

Diakun likes to hire graduates of the university at his company. “I studied at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and have pursued a career in this field,” says Diakun. “My company employs around 280 people in Wrocław and the Elektrotim group has around 520 employees as a whole. Over half of them are college graduates and 90 percent of those are engineers educated at Wrocław University of Technology. We employ Wrocław University of Technology graduates because our experience shows that not only are they well prepared for their job, but they are also easy to teach. A degree from Wrocław University of Technology is a guarantee that after two years in the company, a graduate will make a very good engineer.”

Diakun adds, however, that his company gets more from Wrocław University of Technology than just education-related benefits. One of the most notable projects carried out jointly by Elektrotim and the university was a “blackout protection system” for Polish oil refinery and fuel producer Petrochemia Płocka. The project aimed to reduce losses caused by a total mains power failure. The sequence of events triggered by such an incident could damage the Petrochemia Płocka facility to the point where it would need to be rebuilt from scratch. Diakun says the project was divided into two stages, including a research and development phase followed by the deployment of the resulting technology. “It all took seven years and the project was worth around zl.27 million,” says Diakun.

Elektrotim is constantly in touch with the Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation. Marian Wojdyło, a representative for the Elektrotim management board, says that Wrocław University of Technology researchers and Elektrotim staff are grouped into eight task forces that tackle specific projects. “We tell them what we are interested in and what problems we have and they seek solutions to those.” Wojdyło adds the number of groups changes over time and sometimes there are more than eight, sometimes fewer—when there no longer is a reason for a group to work on a problem that cannot be solved at a given stage.

Practical application—all in the price

Some researchers find it motivating to work with the business community. They look forward to having their ideas patented and, when possible, put into practice. Others are not interested in any of that as they have other, research-related objectives, and the fields they pursue are more about publications and theoretical knowledge. But those who seek practical applications for the work they do in university departments and labs consider teaming up with enterprises to be essential.

Asked what he would see as a success, Pelczarski says that, even though he likes to make sure that the documentation of his inventions is well protected, he sometimes wishes someone would steal one of his ideas. “Paradoxically, I would see that as a success,” Pelczarski jokes. “My project would turn out to be worth taking the trouble to steal, thus proving I’ve done something valuable.”

The Center for Scientific and Technical Information, including the Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation, was established less than two years ago and started working full steam several months ago. Its goal, backed by realistic plans, is to have some of its many inventions put into practice in the business world within several years.

Tasks and Responsibilities
The Wrocław University of Technology’s Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation works to initiate and support projects carried out jointly by the academic and business communities. It is responsible for organizing and coordinating joint projects by the Wrocław University of Technology and business organizations. The staff of the Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation have designed a widely available application to integrate databases on the university’s research potential, which includes access to expert knowledge, new technology and research infrastructure. The application is a perfect tool to promote the university’s intellectual achievements and also serves as a forum for the exchange of contemporary scientific and technological expertise.

The tasks of the Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation are as follows:
- to offer formal and legal support to the university’s organizational units and staff as they transfer knowledge and information to Polish and foreign businesses and administrative units;
- to provide consulting on collaboration between the academic and business communities;
- to coordinate services that businesses and the university’s departments and organizations commission from each other;
- to work with companies and business organizations;
- to compile, update and expand databases of innovative solutions, research and development results, and experts in different fields;
- to work out system regulations, direct consulting and coordination for the handling of orders and contracts that result from projects carried out together with external organizations;
- to develop and carry out document compilation procedures and application procedures for the legal protection of inventions, utility models, trademarks and industrial designs;
- to represent the Wrocław University of Technology at the Patent Office;
- to handle tasks related to obtaining and extending legal protection;
- to draw up and finalize contracts on industrial property rights that concern putting research results to commercial use;
- to organize and conduct training on intellectual property issues;
- to provide intellectual property consulting;
- to provide expert advice on standardization.

Intellectual property
The Department of Intellectual Property and Patent Information deals with issues of intellectual property, working for the academic community of the Wrocław University of Technology. The department’s patent agents act on the university’s behalf in proceedings at the Polish Patent Office, in cases concerning exclusive rights to inventions and solutions developed by the university or in which the university was involved.

Part of the department is the Regional Center for Patent Information that operates within the European PATLIB network. The Regional Center for Patent Information offers consulting on collaboration with the business community, on intellectual property issues and on putting intellectual property to commercial use.

The center provides patent information, helps people use patent databases and offers legal advice to both Warsaw University of Technology employees and private individuals, which strengthens the university’s ties with business.

Contact information:
Wrocław University of Technology
Center for Scientific and Technical Information
Center for Scientific and Economic Cooperation
11 Grunwaldzki Sq. 50-377 Wrocław; Building D-21
tel. (+48) 71 320-22-68, tel. (+48) 71 320-39-93; fax (+48) 71 328-32-45
E-mail: biznes@pwr.edu.pl
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