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Commercializing Technology

January 10, 2022

Commercializing Technology to Benefit Society

The University of Oklahoma created the Office of Innovation and Corporate Partnerships in Sept. 2021 to unify and integrate technology commercialization, entrepreneurship and corporate partnership efforts across campuses. John Hanak, executive director of OICP and chief innovation and corporate officer, explains the role of the office and what technology commercialization means for research.

QUESTION: What is an innovation ecosystem?

ANSWER: When I think of innovation at a research institution, and of the moving parts that are associated with that innovation, I really think about the question, what do we have in place to move inventions, ideas and technologies from the university to the marketplace?  And, if we don’t have everything in place, what do we need to build to streamline the process of commercializing our technologies.

The ecosystem, then, consists of all those aspects that pertain to moving technologies to the marketplace. The aim is to bring the application of that research to the market for the benefit of society. The translation is taking something developed at the pace of research and moving it into the market at the pace of business.

QUESTIONHow do the pace of research and pace of business compare?

ANSWER: Commercialization can be understood as another way of funding research. There’s a translation that occurs though because the market and business side tend to emphasize the utility or application over the research method. So, one of the things we try to do is help researchers clearly articulate the business proposition for their work, in addition to clearly articulating the value of the technical proposition. We help them decode the market language and to think like a founder as well as a researcher.


QUESTIONWhat does a commercialization workflow involve?

ANSWER: We take ideas, inventions and companies where we find them to accelerate their ability to move into the market. We want to find ways to ease entry into the market. As founders, inventors, and ideators, they have to develop their ideas to a certain point.  We work with them to understand the markets, to articulate the value of their business transition and how to access talent, capital and other resources.  It all starts with a conversation, whether with me, the Office of Technology Commercialization, or with other campus resources – what matters is beginning the conversation to begin the process of defining and articulating the business application.

There are very few companies, very few startups in particular, that have a single team advance their enterprise all the way to market scale. There are a variety of roles required to make a company a success and they’re not necessarily led by the same person or team throughout their evolution, so we help work through identifying and answering those questions with the inventor or founder.

QUESTIONWhat are some examples of how research can be brought to market?

ANSWER: There are a variety of ways to bring products and services into the market. The traditional licensing route is predominant. Most research institutions rely on traditional industrial licensing for 75-85% of their technologies, but that still requires a lot of founder influence and participation because when you bring in a potential licensee the founders, oftentimes, are the ones with the network and the contacts that lead towards licensing, so they’re involved in conversations and these application discussions. We want to continue to enhance that.

That’s an example of one path, but there are other types, like partnerships with corporations that could result in licensing, or investments, or the creation of a startup external to the university. There’re also the startups that happen within the university setting, where we help people navigate through the stormy waters of corporate formation and early-stage funding. And there’re examples of hybrid models, where we begin down the startup path and ultimately move toward licensing once the concept has become more established and somewhat de-risked

QUESTION: What is the relationship between publishing and patenting?

ANSWER: The answer is in understanding the relationship between publishing and market reality. It all comes down to disclosure. We want publishing to be done in ways consistent with the legalities around licensing – when you can publish, when you shouldn’t publish, making sure you’ve protected your IP. That all starts with the disclosure process. One of our key elements that we want to support going forward is to ensure the disclosure process is as easy and smooth as possible. At the same time, there is a specific amount of technical information that is required.  Anyone wanting to learn more should visit the Office of Technology Commercialization website and click the button for Disclose an Invention.

QUESTION: What are some questions that you are most frequently asked?

ANSWER: The two biggest questions I get asked are ‘Why here?’ and ‘Why now?’ For me, the answer to both is that the opportunity here is absolutely remarkable. I think there’s an alignment happening within the university strategically; there’s alignment with external interests along the lines of the strategic research verticals – whether around energy transition, aerospace and defense, the life sciences, whatever the case may be – there’s alignment happening at a time that there’s no longer a necessity to be on the east or west coast to be leading innovation. 

The other thing I’ll add, because it can’t be overemphasized, it that this is all about moving technologies, moving inventions into the marketplace for the benefit of society. We’re removing barriers to speed to benefit society. I want to make sure that every innovator, every inventor, every researcher knows we’re here for them. There are innovators in every corner of this university. If there are ideas that anyone has and wants to test in the commercialization waters, we are available to help.