Over the last three decades, there has been a noticeable shift from an economy rooted in labour and products to one rooted in knowledge and innovation.

Consequently, intangible assets, such us innovative ideas and, by association, the intellectual property rights to these assets, have become an extremely desirable commodity. Case in point: multiple studies have shown that a majority of the value of a U.S. publicly-traded company comes from their intangible assets, such as the company’s rights to the intellectual property it has developed.

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What’s true of the private sector is also true in the world of academia.

As most know, universities are a major source for ideas and innovation.  However, since their business traditionally revolves around the provision of education, many universities are not equipped to capitalize financially on their intellectual development and assets.

In the current economy, where governments keep their purse strings fairly tight, many universities can face difficult financial environments, especially when costs for doing first-rate research and providing their students with an excellent education continue to rise.

One of the tools universities, and in particular research universities, have been using to support their research activities has been findings ways to generate more revenue from their patents and intellectual property.

Enter patent monetization companies, such as Canada’s WiLAN.

WiLAN is a Canadian intellectual property monetization firm that since roughly 2006 has focused on assisting businesses and innovators around the world on licensing their patents.  WiLAN provides turnkey solutions for businesses to monetize the patents they own.

The relationship between universities and patent monetization companies like WiLAN fills a definite need.  Many universities are looking for better support and guidance as they navigate the world of licensing and intellectual property.

Companies like WiLAN are a perfect resource for this support.

In April this year, WiLAN announced  it had formed a partnership with the University of Waterloo, with WiLAN helping to commercialize the University’s large collection of technology and intellectual property.

Then in June this year, WiLAN announced it had entered into a second partnership with an academic institution, namely the University of Saskatchewan, with WiLAN collaborating with the University to advance the school’s licensing efforts.

The fact that academic research institutions and patent monetization companies are beginning to work more closely to bring technologies to market carries with it a broader impact.

Transferring innovations – or “products of the mind” – from research institutions to the marketplace contributes to meaningful social transformations that have the potential to not only improve quality of life, but enhance business productivity and job creation.

Licensing agreements on a particular portfolio of technology can also mean more opportunities for these technologies to be further developed and commercialized for a number of different industry applications.

Finally, the fact that research institutions can more easily profit from their intellectual developments fosters even more academic research and innovation – a productive cycle, indeed.

The importance of intellectual property in academia

As mentioned earlier, once upon a time, a company’s physical assets determined the financial success of its business – now, it’s intellectual property that drives business for many companies.

How does the current revenue from intellectual property stack up in the academic space?

Recent research indicates that the Canadian university system costs about $25 billion a year, and that the total income for all Canadian universities from licensing their intellectual property is around $50 million.   There is clearly a large gap with respect to return on investment for the typical Canadian university.

According to Doyletch’s Denzil Doyle, the intellectual property income for universities represents only 2.5 percent of the new sales generated by products based on it.

Needless to say, the chances are great that partnerships between universities and patent monetizations firms will prove a win-win for both parties.