Publish(, or Patent) or Perish

The expression “publish or perish” is well known amongst the scientific community. However, the declining trend in which public funding is able to meet the requirements of the scientific community and the encouragements for public-private partnerships have changed the game a bit…

In many countries, a substantial part of academic scientific research is publicly funded, because the industrial applicability of (fundamental) research can at first be quite obscure. These public funds are generally allocated to research programs, which are selected by a board of scientists. This board evaluates the soundness of the research plan and the track record of the scientist(s), research institute(s) and department(s), applying for these funds. The research plan is evaluated by experts in the respective fields, regarding the value and relevance of the anticipated created knowledge against the current insights, the feasibility of the objectives of the study and the compliance with the dogma of the scientific method. The track record is judged for a large part by assessing the publication record, which can be regarded as the scientific capital. The importance of the publication record for scientists to obtain funding and thereby sustain or further their career has set forth the expression “publish or perish”.

Nowadays, however, the economic downturn and increases in costs have impacted these rules, through a) its negative influence on public funding in several countries, b) the incentives given by national governments and the European Union for public-private partnerships and c) increasing costs of research (partly caused by compliance with applicable rules and regulations). As a result, scientists are increasingly looking towards industry for obtaining the financial resources to fund their scientific endeavours and industry is joining forces with academic research consortia to fill in their research needs.

This inevitably brings forth a struggle for scientists and industry concerning the handling of intellectual property, since information in the public domain, the scientific capital, does not mix well with one of the primary goals of most companies, which is to sustainably generate a profit, because the latter is often safeguarded by ensuring exclusivity, e.g. through secrecy or by claiming intellectual property rights by means of patents.

As a result, negotiations concerning the handling of intellectual property are of major importance before engaging into public-private partnerships and often the filing of patents by the technology transfer office (TTO) of research institutions, prior to engaging negotiations with industry, may tip the balance in the favour of the scientist or inventor. Therefore, the expression “publish or patent or perish” is more appropriate, since it approaches the current situation more closely.

If you are a scientist or inventor wishing to engage into a partnership with industry, it is advisable to seek counsel from specialized companies like Coen Willems Consultancy or a TTO affiliated with your institution. They can help you determine the commercial value of your invention, the patentability and assist in engaging and negotiating licensing deals, joint ventures and partnerships.

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