Knowledge transfer thriving between Irish industry and entrepreneurs
Collaboration between research bodies and Irish companies stabilising, survey finds
At the end of November 2017, there were more than 1,300 research collaborations across the system in Ireland, Knowledge Transfer Ireland found.
Collaboration between publicly-funded research organisations and Irish companies is thriving. This is the key finding of the latest annual knowledge transfer survey carried out by Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI). A partnership between Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Universities Association, KTI is the national office which oversees the knowledge transfer system with a mission to make it simple for industry and entrepreneurs to benefit from Irish research and expertise.
The results of the 2017 survey point to a knowledge transfer system in the rudest of health. During 2017, 164 new licences to use intellectual property created by research organisations were signed, 670 new consultancy services agreements were reached, 21 new spin-outs from research organisations were formed – bringing the total number to 111, 24 new products were launched as a result of licences from research organisations, and 116 new patent applications were filed.
In addition, 1,324 collaborations were ongoing while a total of 452 new inventions were disclosed.
“The system is performing well but we should never be complacent,” says KTI director Alison Campbell. “This is the fourth year we have published the survey and what the results show is that there has been a stabilisation in the level of engagement. We are seeing a good level of licensing agreements and collaborations as well as IP transfers. We are seeing a relatively steady state of activity in most areas. That’s not a bad thing. Sometimes there is a desire to see everything going up, but outputs can only increase if inputs go up as well and that means additional funding and so on.”
There was a slight fall in the number of patents filed but Campbell does not believe this is a cause for concern. “This is probably a reflection of the maturity in the system,” she says. “People are not patenting everything any more; just the things which have commercial potential.
“We are seeing between 21 and 29 spin-outs every year. This is very good. When we look at the total number of spin-outs we count those that are still in existence after three years and we exclude those that have been acquired. There are 111 of these and some of them are 20 years old. The employment created by these companies is substantial with more than 900 people working for them. The impact of the companies that have been acquires is also significant. The parent companies often choose to locate the workforce in Ireland rather than scoop them away. The company remains in Ireland and more jobs are created here.”
The high number of research collaborations is particularly noteworthy, she adds. “One of the most exciting things about the survey is the large number of research collaborations. At the end of November 2017, there were more than 1,300 collaborations across the system. One the things we’re really good at here in Ireland is collaborating and 82 per cent of new collaborations in 2017 were with Irish companies.”
One company which has benefited from research collaborations over the years is Aerogen. The company is an acknowledged world leader in acute-care aerosol drug-delivery systems. “Aerogen is a very innovative company,” says Dr Brendan Hogan, senior vice-president of engineering and operations. “Our technology is based on fundamental research, development and technological advancement. We convert liquid drugs into aerosols for patients from pre-term babies to old age.”
The company has its own in-house research and development team, but collaboration augments that effort. “We frequently reach out to places of interest and centres of excellence. We have a number of academic partnerships, principally with the University of Limerick (UL). We have built up very strong links with UL and we are now on our fourth programme there in 10 years. Our work with them and the technology transfer office there has been a great experience for us. They work with us as a team with our end goals in mind. We work with UL to characterise and fully understand aspects of our technology. This helps us scale up the technology and grow as a company. When we file patents, we name Aerogen and UL as the inventors on them. There is an exclusive licence to Aerogen for our field of use and a licence back to UL for non-competitive fields outside of that. KTI is a fantastic organisation with all the required tools and techniques one would need to set up and get benefit from an academic partnership.”
This is just one example of a company benefiting from the Irish research system. “Great things come out of Irish third level and other research organisations,” says Campbell. “Irish research has the ability to make great things happen and solve problems for the world at large – locally, nationally and internationally.
“Our main job at KTI is to make it easier for industry and enterprises to interact with state-supported research-performing organisations and benefit from that research. Companies interested in research collaborations should go to our website [knowledgetransferireland.ie] which will give them a good understanding of the research landscape to see what’s available to them and who to contact on the ground to make it happen.”