If you have an innovation whose IP is trapped in a university, why not consider spinning it out in an investment-rich environment like China.
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.”