Achieving more together: Baltics ink agreement to support tech transfer, commercialization

Photo credit: Renee Altrov
Photo credit: Renee Altrov

Representatives of universities in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania recently inked a technology transfer cooperation agreement that set up a Baltic technology transfer office. The aim of the new entity is to streamline knowledge and technology transfer between institutes, firms, and the public sector in the three countries.

The effort will see, among other activities, the roll out of an online platform where parties can share information on capabilities and needs, serving as a clearinghouse for new technologies. Events will also be organized among the universities to support tech transfer and offer entrepreneurs better access to new research and development.

According to Tõnu Pihelgas, legal officer for business relations at Tallinn University of Technology, the catalyst for setting up a Baltic technology transfer office came from the World Intellectual property Organization (WIPO). Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the WIPO is one of the United Nations’ specialized agencies.

WIPO has trained employees of technology transfer units in Baltic universities since 2016 and provided them with knowledge of intellectual property management, patent, startup companies, and how to license and commercialize research.

TalTech’s Tõnu Pihelgas.
Photo credit: TalTech

According to Pihelgas, Estonia would like to cooperate on multiple levels via the new Baltic tech transfer office. Policy discussions between patent offices in the countries, sharing of best practices and success stories, and organizing common events, such as seminars and conferences, are all planned.

The members of the Baltic TTO could also jointly offer deals to potential business partners and cooperate on projects. A common patent pool is also envisioned. A patent pool, as Pihelgas explained, is a group of patents in a certain technology or application area. “If we have a common patent pool, it gives us better abilities to sell or license patents to different companies,” said Pihelgas. “It also gives us the possibility to market these patents in a better way.”

Better marketing of Baltic IP is a desired outcome of the newly minted Baltic TTO. Pihelgas acknowledged that while Baltic R&D has been productive, licensing and commercializing innovation has lagged. “We have had lots of patents but not much success in commercializing or licensing,” he said. “Our aim is to sell better knowledge-based services, and create more successful patents, as well as utility models and designs,” Pihelgas added.

There are several reasons why commercializing innovation in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania has been less successful, Pihelgas said. He noted that in general commercializing IP by licensing can be complicated, as companies don’t want to pay a continuous licensing fee. They also don’t want to pay for patents, when they could invent something else or go around existing IP. Instead they prefer to purchase the service, in this case the working time of a researcher, and obtain the IP rights that way.

But there are deeper issues at play. Most of the IP generated by scientists in the region is not explicitly for business purposes, Pihelgas noted, but for scientific purposes. They also are not yet in patent pools, making them difficult to access via databases. Universities in the region also have a tough time enforcing their patent rights. “It could be that something similar is invented and we have no resources to dispute it,” acknowledged Pihelgas.

The hope is that the Baltic TTO, with the help of the WIPO, will find new solutions to mitigate these issues, Pihelgas said. New knowledge-based projects, perhaps with partial EU financing, will also help to establish more spinoff companies and commercialize IP created in the Baltics. 

Kaunas University of Technology’s Greta Žėkienė.
Photo credit: Greta Žėkienė

As for the Baltic TTO, it is still in an embryonic form since its official creation in March. Pihelgas said they have had several virtual meetings. At the next such meeting a memorandum of understanding between the Baltic TTO and WIPO will also be discussed. Pihelgas said he will also attend WIPO’s annual conference in Geneva in October on behalf of the Baltic TTO.

Greta Žėkienė, head of intellectual property management at National Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania, noted that the journey to the establishment of the Baltic TTO began actually in 2016 at the behest of the WIPO, and characterized the new agreement as the next phase of this collaboration.

Žėkienė said the agreement would enable business cooperation for academic research and development projects, and will create a “remarkable commercial impact,” giving the Baltics a “significant push toward competitiveness with a bigger scope.”

The undertaking will also strengthen Baltic academic efforts too, Žėkienė added. It will accomplish this through supporting cooperation between research and public administration institutions in all three countries, as well as streamlining the processes of intellectual property management and technology transfer.

“It’s a great achievement,” remarked Žėkienė, “and proof that together we can achieve more.”

Written by: Justin Petrone

This article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.

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