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Common Obstacles to the Successful Commercialization of Research

Common Obstacles to the Successful Commercialization of Research


(July 6, 2011)

Between an inventor’s “Aha!” moment and his financial reward are the challenges of commercialization. It is a rare inventor who does not encounter difficulty in funding, manufacturing, distributing and marketing his invention. The fruits of research may yield an intriguing invention, but entering the market often proves equally challenging.  Myriad factors complicate the journey to commercialization:

  • Undue delay caused by the inventor’s attempts to “perfect” his or her product may allow a competitive, lesser quality product to enter the market, to the detriment of the inventor.
  • Licensing manufacturing to another may hasten market entry, but at the expense of the inventor’s control.
  • Funding may be exhausted in pre-sales activities.
  • Distribution and supply chains take time and expertise to establish.

The inventor who finds equal pleasure in inventing and reaching market is rare. But the successful inventor must proactively attack these practical problems of commercialization.

Tom Epting’s primary practice areas include intellectual property, patents, trademarks and copyrights, technology, licensing, litigation, and corporate and business transactions. He was formerly a Patent Examiner with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The most common obstacle to successful commercialization of research is simply a well-developed business plan. It is "simple" to use the term business plan to sum up all the facets of successful commercialization; however, there is really nothing simple about it. A well-developed business plan is quite complex and requires input from a wide variety of specialists, including attorneys (business, intellectual property, and possibly regulatory), venture capitalists, financial planners, and marketing experts. Assembling such a dream team of consultants can be an obstacle in and of itself, so researchers have to take off their lab coats, put on their business attire, and engage in good, old-fashioned networking to connect with professionals who are willing to invest time and resources in the research. Many researchers find it helpful to partner with technology incubators and technology transfer offices to get support in developing the business plan and getting access to the necessary consultants.

Kim Gatling concentrates her practice in patent and trademark prosecution, licensing, and litigation. Particularly, she prosecutes computer software, business method, and mechanical patent applications, as well as trademark applications, before the United States Patent and Trademark Office. She also drafts and negotiates agreements for IT transactions, including software development and maintenance agreements, and advises clients on computer law and internet issues.

Insufficient intellectual property is a common obstacle. Most researchers understand that IP protection is an important component of successful commercialization. Entrepreneurial innovators particularly recognize the value of "patent pending" status or issued patents covering core technologies. Without patent protection, many technologies cannot be commercialized. Investors are generally unwilling to bring products to market if those products can be easily and quickly copied by competitors with no available remedy.

However, many researchers and their employers wrongly assume that any patent protection will suffice. Patents should not be treated like commodities, especially at early commercialization stages. Patent quality varies dramatically, and higher quality patents are worth much more in the marketplace than lower quality ones. Investors, potential licensees, and competitors frequently scrutinize patents and patent applications. Poorly drafted patents frighten investors, reduce licensing fees, and empower rather than deter competitors. Higher quality patents may cost a little more up front, but the extra money is usually well spent.

Dr. John Zimmer focuses his practice on matters including patent prosecution and counseling in the chemical and materials science areas. Dr. Zimmer holds four patents related to colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals and has co-authored 13 papers, appearing in peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Nature Biotechnology, Nature Medicine and Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Click here to view the full digital version of the The Innovation edition of SML Perspectives.

Authors
Thomas W. Epting
T (864) 751-7653
F (864) 751-7800
Kimberly Bullock Gatling
T (336) 378-5356
F (336) 378-5400
John P. Zimmer
T (704) 384-2659
F (704) 384-2918
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