The Inova Success Story – Technology transfer in Brazil
Prof. Oswaldo Alvez (right) and researcher Odair Pastor Ferreira holding the materials used to produce Fentox (Photo: Inova)
By Rachel Bueno
In this article, journalist Rachel Bueno explains why the technology transfer office of the university that is her employer is considered a model for other Brazilian science and technology institutions.
The University of Campinas (Unicamp), a leading public higher education institution, filed its first three patent applications with Brazil’s National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) in 1989. Twenty years later, Unicamp now internationally recognized for its excellence in teaching and research, ranks second only to Petrobas, Brazil’s mighty petrochemical company, in the number of patent applications filed at INPI, with 591 to date. Much of this success can be attributed to the work of Inova Unicamp Innovation Agency, the first technology transfer office (TTO) to be established in a Brazilian university.
Created in 2003, Inova employs more than 50 people and carries out a wide range of activities, including explaining the importance of intellectual property (IP) protection to the academic community; preparing and filing Unicamp’s national and international patent applications; negotiating technology license agreements; and managing the University's incubator for start-up companies.
In 2008 alone, Inova filed 51 patent applications with INPI and 12 internationally via the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT); registered 13 trademarks and the authorship of 10 computer programs; licensed out three of its technological innovations to industry; and finalized over 30 collaborative research agreements with Brazilian companies and institutions, which are expected to bring some 8 million reais (R$) – just under US$5 million – in investment to Unicamp. By the end of 2008, five Unicamp laboratory technologies had been commercialized in Brazil, earning the University some R$900,000 in royalties.
A paradigm shift
Unicamp President, Prof. Fernando Costa, explains, "The creation of Inova showed that technological innovation is a key element of development in Brazil. Although companies should always remain the main innovators in a country, Unicamp is aware of the major role that universities can play in less developed national innovation systems." Prof. Costa emphasized that Unicamp had not lost sight of its fundamental mission – to provide high-quality teaching, conduct first-class research and extend knowledge-based services and other resources to society at large – while creating a significant IP asset portfolio.
Inova has brought about a paradigm shift in most of Unicamp's 22 campuses and research centers. When Inova was launched, the Faculty of Medical Sciences had four patents in the works and had never licensed out a single technology. By the end of 2008, it had filed 33 patent applications and signed four licensing agreements with industry. The effect on PCT use was also remarkable. Before Inova, Unicamp had filed only one international patent application; by the end of 2008, it had filed 32.
Unicamp’s Institute of Chemistry has gone the furthest in implementing what it has learned about the importance of protecting IP. At the time of writing, the Institute had submitted 214 patent applications. Prof. Fernando Galembeck, the main inventor of two technologies that have been licensed out by Unicamp, notes that the process of transferring technology to industry "has been extremely positive" for the research carried out at his laboratory, bringing in "additional and substantial resources" and helping to create "a climate of greater enthusiasm and more concern about the relevance of the results." He underscores that "if we don't have patents and we don't license them, inventions won't be transformed into real commercial products and processes. And if we only publish the results, we will have to pay tomorrow for the fruits of our own work".
Prof. Licio Velloso, an inventor from the Faculty of Medical Sciences, created a synthetic insulin-based substance for treating diabetes mellitus that was licensed in 2006 to Aché Laboratórios. Aché plans to invest R$2 million during the initial development of the drug, which is being carried out in conjunction with the University. According to Prof. Velloso, initial tests will conclude in the first half of 2010.
Challenges and achievements
Still, Inova faces a major challenge when it comes to convincing faculty, researchers and students that their inventions can be transferred more easily to society if they protect their IP. "We received a total of 72 invention reports in 2008," says Prof. Roberto Lotufo, Inova’s Executive Director. "Nevertheless, we still have a long way to go in raising the academic community's awareness of the importance of protecting intellectual property."
Production of the TF-Test developed at
the Institute of Biology (Photo: Inova)
Another challenge for Inova is the revision of Unicamp's IP policy to align it with both the 2004 Federal and the 2008 State Innovation Laws. An extensive proposal is now under study by a special commission within the University.
Prof. Lotufo highlights the results of the InovaNIT project as one of their important achievements. InovaNIT's objective was to assist other public science and technology institutions in Brazil in establishing TTOs, as required by the Federal Innovation Law. Prof. Lotufo notes that "from its beginning, in July 2007, to December 2008 the project assisted 186 institutions and had a total of 539 people participating in the 24 courses it offered." A collection of articles by course instructors was published in 2009.
Inova forecasts that it “will probably receive fewer royalties from technology license agreements in 2009 compared to 2008, but we cannot say whether the reduction is linked to the financial crisis.” Other factors may cause royalty income to fluctuate, such as changes in licensed product distribution or commercialization channels.
Unicamp received a major boost in 2008 when substantial state funding came in for the construction of a Research and Innovation Hub on the main campus in Campinas. The Hub will include laboratories dedicated to collaborative research projects as well as a business incubator infrastructure for 50 start-up companies.
Inova's future objectives are similar to its initial goals: "to be more professional in the way we manage IP and commercialize technology; to bring more collaborative research projects to Unicamp; and to stimulate technological entrepreneurship and the development of a local innovative environment."
|Technology licenses yield commercial products|
Five products based on technologies licensed out by Unicamp are available in the Brazilian marketplace: