BEIJING – If you have an innovation with intellectual property that is trapped in a university that can’t find a way to fund the project, why not consider spinning it out in an investment-rich environment--like China--as an “international startup”?
That’s the big idea Dongmin Chen, dean of Peking University’s (PKU) School of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, has been advocating over the past 18 months. In an interview with EE Times, Chen said that he’s been making progress articulating this idea, literally taking non-Chinese intellectual properties on roadshows around China.
Prof. Dongmin Chen speaks in his office at PKU
The premise is straightforward. China needs technology innovation. China--especially its provincial governments--has funds, but it lacks promising projects. In contrast, there are original innovations at Western universities that have no outlet.
Chen believes IPs aren’t getting out of universities, because “cash available for early stage investment in the United States and Europe is limited, and VCs are becoming increasingly opportunistic.” Further, generally speaking, university faculties focused on research are not tuned in to VCs, he added.
The goal of Chen’s “university technology transfer” initiative is to connect Western IPs with capital and markets in China.
The concept, simple as it sounds, is pretty radical. It turns China’s lousy reputation for IP protection on its head.
“Look, China has to do technology innovation--with or without help from the West. China can do it either by reverse-engineering what the West has innovated, or by participating in a globalized technology transfer platform,” he explained.
OK, that sounded a bit alarming. But it still didn’t answer the biggest question: Why should Americans, if indeed they have their own good IPs, help China? What’s in it for U.S. universities?
Chen, who has always been a straight shooter, didn’t flinch. “First, your technology is stuck in a university. I’m not asking you to give up your IPs for free. You’re getting a fair share [of the action] for that,” he said. “Second, we share the risk with you.”
Keenly aware of China’s record of sometimes blatant IP infringement, Chen noted, “IP [laws] protect everyone, both Western and domestic companies.”
He insists that “enforcement of IP protection is our government’s top agenda, too.”
In hopes of making it right, Chen is willing to risk his reputation and PKU’s brand name in implementing the university technology transfer platform. With a brand name like PKU behind it, Chen said, for the Western universities, “It’s a lot safer to work with us, rather than going into the jungle on your own.”
Honestly, I fairly enjoy the statement, “But I must say that a ‘bubble’ is, in a way, the only way for the sector to grow. Without it, it’s harder to get more funding.”
Bubble is inevitable in Market Economy. Professor Chen honestly puts it to be an incentive for capital investment.
In today's global economy, ability to communicate in multi-cultural environment is a crucial skill. Professor Chen hits the point quite well - "not only bilingual but also bi-cultural". Chinese studying/ working in US might be a good choice. Question is what is the incentive program to attract these talents.
On the other hands, the detail of protecting the IP has to be layout properly and agreed between 2+ universities.
Hi Junko, quite interesting read, thank you!
I have to question the premise of proliferating western IP in China as stated in: "connect Western IPs with capital and markets in China." Seems to me that this is not a major setback for US/Western IP generated in the universities. A good majority of the funded research on which IP is generated is funded by the governments and has many restrictions on release to foreign governments. Commercially funded ones are already monetized by the sponsoring companies -often maximized by manufacturing overseas including China!
Of course I agree it could be maximized by what Prof. Chen aspires to do. I hope his efforts bear fruit.
And I have to echo @chanj's comment above -communicating in a multicultural setting is a work-in-progress!
Hi Junko, one more thing... isn't Prof. Chen's efforts also better served if he can find a model for technology transfer for the IP generated in China to industries worldwide, not just the west? It would be something other developing economies can emulate...
I think the fact is that many universities -- whether in the West or in China do have a lot of IPs that are NOT monetizd. Some are probably not worth much but others do languish without proper home.
I think an active effort such as this one could be helpful for both the West and the East. But of course, as you also pointed out, there are always human factors...being bilingual and bicultural is not as easy as it sounds.
@resistion: I agree, the underlying assumption to my comments above is that persons like Prof. Chen are capable of making that assessment in offering a monetize-able IP portfolio to the industry. Many universities in fact hire professionals from the industry to lead technology transfer program.
So how does one square this article with the more recent one titled "Forget fighting Chinese counterfeiting," by Brian Fuller? Simply saying that protecting IP rights is the goal of the Chinese government hardly solves the problem, apparently, according to lot that's been reported lately.
It seems to me that it's 6 of one and half a dozen of the other. You either don't monetize it in the West, due to this suppose lack of VC funds, or you ship it off to China and see it being blatantly copied there.
Why wouldn't we expect western universities to conclude this as well?
the professor has a strange philosophy: since i am going to rape you, why dont you become my concubine and make it legal or permanent? what has this country become? didn't china invent a lot things, compass, gun powder, printing and paper. where is the fucking self-esteem. professor? yak.
Monetizing IPs are extremely tedious and difficult process. For most academic researchers, their pay-offs are their name on the paper they've submitted to conference. Once the papers ware accepted in the conferences, their job is done. Who's going to fill the gaps between here and there...