Office of the Vice-Principal (Research)

Queen's University
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Office of the Vice-Principal (Research)
Office of the Vice-Principal (Research)

Introduction

Queen’s University Vice-Principal (Research), Dr. Steven Liss, commissioned an external review of the university’s support for technology transfer and commercialization. The review was undertaken to guide the university’s senior administration in developing a response to a recommendation by the Board of Directors of PARTEQ Innovations (PARTEQ) that the university consider integration of PARTEQ services within the university, therefore becoming a shared service.

The reviewers visited Queen’s on June 13-14, 2016, and met with 32 individuals, including members of the senior executive team, faculty members, administrative staff, faculty deans, associate deans of research and external partners.

The review team was composed of:

  • Angus Livingstone, Technology Transfer Director, Onco Research (Chair), formerly Managing Director, University-Industry Liaison Office, University of British Columbia
  • Kevin Carroll, Vice President, Cord3 Innovation, formerly Managing Director, Invest Ottawa; Commercialization Advisor, Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE)
  • Janet Scholz, President, Janet E. Scholz & Associates Ltd., formerly President, Alliance for Commercialization of Canadian Technologies (ACCT)
  • Ronald D. Venter, Professor Emeritus, Mechanical Engineering, University of Toronto, formerly CEO of the University of Toronto Innovations Foundation

The following outlines a summary of the main observations and high-level recommendations from the reviewers. Currently, due diligence activities remain ongoing related to the potential internalization of technology transfer services. It is anticipated that further details on the planned structure for technology transfer activities will become available in early 2017.

Main Observations

  • The review team emphasized the importance of research to the academy and the need for a better understanding of the changed environment for research funding one that values impact alongside of scholarly excellence (e.g., publications in high-impact journals, HQP development, technology transfer, industry collaboration, entrepreneurship and knowledge translation are all supported in some form across the institution).
  • PARTEQ’s self-funded business model was intended to focus PARTEQ activities on profit-earning transactions. This business model was challenged when grant funding support expired in 2010. The trend and refocusing of efforts have moved away from viewing technology transfer as a profit centre to viewing it as a service. Technology transfer support should broaden the range of services and leverage core competences to service the research community and advance the mission of the research enterprise.
  • The reviewers acknowledged the work of the university, PARTEQ management, and its Board to reposition PARTEQ’s focus, staff complement, and business in a more sustainable manner. As an example, compared to 2012, operational expenses at PARTEQ have been curtailed significantly, with a 41% decrease in operating costs.
  • Senior academic administration have a limited understanding of the role of PARTEQ and its integration with other VPRO units and the Queen’s Innovation Connector, and limited internal communications from PARTEQ has contributed to this lack of understanding and makes it hard for the faculties to understand the PARTEQ value proposition and support their budget request.
  • The review team noted that there is no intellectual property (IP) policy at Queen’s. Intellectual property is addressed in collective agreements with faculty and with post-docs. In addition, a 1992 report, cited incorrectly by some as Queen’s IP policy, simply recommends elements to include in an IP policy. PARTEQ operating practices have followed the requirements of the collective agreements and the 1992 report, but a clear policy statement that addresses rights and obligations of faculty, students and staff is warranted.
  • While complicated, the review team learned of no insurmountable legal issues identified with internalization of technology transfer activities.

High-level Recommendations

  • In a world where the potential impact of research, and the increasing complexity of integrated multi-disciplinary, multi-party research, it is incomprehensible that a research intensive university would not have technology transfer capabilities to service the research needs of its faculty and the experiential learning needs of its students. Queen’s research enterprise is of sufficient size to warrant having this capacity in-house and it should be seamlessly integrated with industry engagement and entrepreneurship services.
  • The primary functions of technology transfer and industry partnerships should be:
    • Provide intellectual property and technology transfer services
    • Promote industry engagement with researchers through proactive business development
    • Support the entrepreneurial programs (e.g., Queens Innovation Connector)
    • Serve as the focal point for connection into the local innovation ecosystem
    • Support educational and experiential learning initiatives relevant to intellectual property, industry engagement and company creation
  • In particular, the technology transfer and commercialization operation should:
    • De-emphasize the direct formation, support, and management of spin-offs (financing, treasury, accounting, and company incorporation) and facilitate access to these services through their relationships with 3rd party providers
    • Coordinate their business development activities with initiatives underway in the faculties
    • Work with entities like GreenCentre Canada and Center for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) who have deeper sector knowledge and relationships for the commercialization of relevant technologies
    • Consider re-branding to reflect the proposed internalization of technology transfer services
  • An advisory board should be established consisting of internal stakeholders and external members to provide oversight, guidance and connectivity related to technology transfer activities to both the internal and external communities.
  • Queen’s should move forward with the development of an intellectual property policy that applies to faculty, students and staff. The terms of the policy need not vary from the “inventor-owned model” currently entrenched in the collective agreements. The policy will need to be clear on the sharing of revenues and expenses among inventors, the institution, faculties and 3rd parties (such as GreenCentre Canada) that may be engaged in commercialization.