Academic entrepreneurs are successful in developing research, but they often fall short of the goal of attaining commercial success.

“… most academic researchers are not versed in product development, intellectual property, market analysis and other core business practices that are vital to successfully commercializing breakthrough science,” writes Professor M. Cynthia Goh in the Department of Chemistry at University of Toronto.

“Once an academic group comes up with a viable innovation, it’s vital to protect the researchers’ intellectual property (IP) as they move toward commercialization,” writes the professor.

Professor’s caveat

“However, we’ve found that many government programs, funding agencies and other commercialization support programs focus excessively on obtaining patents,” Professor Goh explains. “They tend to ignore the fact that any IP strategy must be tailored to the specific technology, company and industry.”

She explains the conundrum in failing to use basic marketing strategies.

“If a more established competitor – with its financial resources, sales networks and suppliers – is able to easily copy the new products and leapfrog years of research, then the new start-up will find it very challenging to succeed,” she writes.

She has received research funding from the Natural Science and Engineering Council (NSERC), the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, Vive Crop Protection and Axela. The Impact Centre obtains partial funding for its entrepreneurship activities from the Ontario Centres of Excellence.

Her theory was published in an article entitled, “Academic entrepreneurs’ intellectual property strategies should include more than only patents.” Scott McAuley, a Ph.D. candidate in Biochemistry at University of Toronto also contributed to it.

“Fundamentally, an IP strategy allows a technology company to profit from the knowledge, expertise and inventions it has created,” adds Professor Goh.


“One of the most important topics we cover when mentoring teams of researchers is how to protect their IP through practical strategies. The best solution for each group must be based on their own situation and leverage all of the available IP protection tools,” she asserts.

“One of the most important topics we cover when mentoring teams of researchers is how to protect their IP through practical strategies. The best solution for each group must be based on their own situation and leverage all of the available IP protection tools.”

She says there are different components:

  • trade secrets – where you don’t tell anyone how your product works and hope no one figures it out
  • trademarks – where you protect an identifying mark, such as a logo
  • patents – where you apply to the Patent Office and disclose your invention in exchange for a 20-year monopoly on the use of your invention. If you are successful and your patent is issued, you have to continue paying the Patent Office maintenance fees to ensure your patent remains valid.

She acknowledges the dilemmas associated with patents.

“Founders have to carefully weigh the costs and value of any component of an IP strategy,” she admits. “Factors to consider include legal fees, immediate and future payments owed to the Patent Office, time, impact on business strategy, ability to defend against infringement and the normal practices of the particular industry.”

Because of the expense and time in obtaining patents as well as the vulnerabilities suffered from public disclosure of proprietary information, there are disadvantages.

“This doesn’t have to be your automatic first stop,” she writes. “The necessity of a patent differs from case to case and industry to industry.”

Marketing lessons

She cites a study revealing that academic entrepreneurs could learn from dominant companies that use productive marketing strategies.

“However, we need to move beyond the misplaced idea that patents are the only viable method of IP protection,” she points out. She says relatively few innovators succeed with good strategy.

Certainly, though well-intentioned, academics could learn to be more practical.

“By encouraging a more nuanced vision of intellectual property along the commercialization pipeline, we can improve the flow of new knowledge and products from our academic institutions to the market,” concludes Professor Goh. “And we’ll all benefit sooner from groundbreaking research.”

My sense is Professor Goh is right. Marketing strategy is important for commercial success.

Furthermore, the unpredictability of powerful forces from rapidly evolving technology and changing global demographics make it more challenging than ever to create great strategy.

Strategy must be continually evaluated.  Trends need to be analyzed while threats need to be anticipated.

The right people need to be hired. Your human capital must understand your vision and the big picture. Your profits from revenue must be maximized and invested well for the future. And along the way,  tough choices must be made.

From the Coach’s Corner, related reading on strategy:

Strategy Not Working? You Need a Strategy to Execute Your Strategy — If a company develops a good strategy but it fails, we can draw a conclusion. Management dropped the ball. Well-worded strategies are nice. But they’re just a bunch of sentences until success is achieved.

Leadership Tips for Executing Strategy to Defeat Threats — Multiple solutions might work to triumph over a threat, but a global study in 20 sectors in 20 countries  shows execution trumps strategy. Here’s how leaders execute strategy.

A Marketing Strategy That Best Defends Your Company — What do I mean by the phrase, “A marketing strategy that best defends your company”? Protecting your assets with the right marketing strategy results in the shielding and enhancing of your brand, as well as protecting your customer base.

To Cope with Rising Costs, Review your Pricing Strategy — Increased costs weigh heavily on the bottom line. If you’re being pressured by costs, it’s probably time to review your pricing strategy.  You’re not alone. No business is immune from rising costs in fuel; rent or real estate; labor; health insurance and ObamaCare; marketing; and equipment. Lest not you forget all the taxes.

Strategies to Make Change Management Programs Work –– Management is mostly to blame because most change-management programs crash and burn. Why? It’s up to management to hire the right people, and to invest in the right tools while inspiring employees to accept and drive change. Here’s how.

The best CEOs I know are teachers, and at the core of what they teach is strategy.”

-Michael Porter


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.