The line between what is a corporation and a research institute can be blurry but synergistic.
Australia’s National Science Agency, Csiro (an acronym standing for Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), has an enviable track record in innovation and working with corporate partners to commercialise and deliver the ideas into something useful for people.
Whereas corporations have increasingly taken to outsourcing research and development to start-ups and academia, research institutes have been looking to the marketing and distribution skills of companies to make their ideas live and provide iterative feedback for further studies about what works rather than remains theoretical.
Csiro’s 900 scientists are supported by nine business developers and a 40-strong intellectual property (IP) management and strategy team run by Jan Bingley, general manager of IP, licensing and technology transfer.
In a Global Corporate Venturing webinar hosted by the US-based National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer (NCET2) earlier this month, Bingley said the business development unit was a relatively new area of development for Csiro.
However, she said Csiro had more than 20 years of working with industrial partners and spun out more than 150 small and medium-sized enterprises and earned more than $200m per year in IP licensing, much of it from its patents in wirless local area networks for computers.
Csiro has equity stakes in 34 spin outs with market capitalisation of an aggregate $1bn and it is prepared to follow-on invest in these businesses and co-invest alongside industrial partners with money as well as access to its scientists or other non-monetary forms of help.
Bingley said its attitude to commercialisation and working with industry had evolved and now was about being “flexible in being open for business”.
She added: “Our attitude to licensing versus spin-outs has evolved. In the mid-1990s commercialisation was done to Csiro and we were not proactive. Now we are proactive, look globally for partners and are flexible in the model of transfer technology so there is a path to market. Licensing often selects itself after analysis of the opportunity but for spin outs we have a high tolerance with failure and go down the route if it breaks new markets or new products.”
Such breakthrough technologies developed by Csiro and industrial partners include polymers and Csiro has been successful in looking across sectors for their use.
Donald Loveday, business development manager for Csiro’s Raft project focusing on the chemicals and materials markets, including polymers, said in the same webinar it was looking across the biomedical, industrial chemicals, personal care, agrochemical and energy sectors, having already had success in using polymers for banknotes.
And given chemicals are the basic building blocks for organic and inorganic matter it is proving a fruitful area of research by linking it to manufacturing, computing, networks and biology.
Talking to news provider Financial Times this past week, Craig Venter, founder of Synthetic Genomics, said the marriage of computing and biology represented by synthetic genomics means “digital life and actual life are getting closer and closer together.
“We can digitise a genome and transmit the information down the internet to a digital-biological converter, which can turn it back into DNA in a real cell.”
Which, given how far Australia is from most places could eventually help speed up travel to the continent for its increasing numbers of partners.