Business Benefits Realized

By Susan Nunziata  |  Posted 08-17-2010

Business Analytics: Turning IP Into Opportunity

North Carolina State University had a challenge. It needed a new process to monetize its treasure trove of scientific advancements and university-invented technologies by matching these with potential research partners and sponsors. Any organization sitting on reams of intellectual property (IP) will learn from the experiences of Billy Houghteling, Director of the Office of Technology Transfer at NC State.His office is resonsible for transferring University-developed innovations to the marketplace and interracting with partners. "Our portfolio is very large, very diverse and it's understaffed," says Houghteling. "We have a hard time managing the intellectual property assets we have."

There are seven licensing professionals (including Houghteling) in the department and they are managinging some 3,000 technologies. In addition, there are 12 support professionals working in the department.

"Not only are we charged with managing the university's intellectual property assets, we're also charged with raising whole profile of technology in NC State," says Houghteling. "So we are always thinking about what type of research partnerships we could establish between an industry partner and faculty member in, say, our department of chemistry, for example."

The most time-consuming part of the process is what Houghteling's team calls "triage," in which the licensing professionals review an opportunity to determine market potential, investigate the patent landscape, and, if necessary, seek patent protection in order to move early-stage technologies to market. This triage process typically takes two to four months, and much of that time is spent on the back end trying to identify the right partners in a particular industry so they can be pitched on the project, explains Houghteling.

For the triage process, the licensing profesionals search a plethora of documents, scour SEC reports, keep up with blogs to see which company's R&D efforts are successful and which have failed, attend industry trade meetings and do anything else required "to really get a handle on who is interested in any given technology space," says Houghteling.

IBM Big Data Pilot

This summer, the department began piloting IBM's "Big Data" analytics technology, which mines large amounts of unstructured Web data. The analysis is based on factors such as business relevancy, government policies, market needs and trends. In the pilot phase, the tools unearthed hidden business opportunities that likely would not have emerged under the old triage system, notes Houghteling. In addition, the analytics tools condensed the triage process down to a seven- to 10-day period. "We do this by identifying key words, using speciic phrasing dedicated to key words, and by identifying specific documents," Houghteling says. "You can get these types of analytics tools to spit out a scored or ranked list of potential partners. That's attractive: to have a group of potential partners ranked based on how they match to our specs."

For example, a team of researchers at NC State is investigating new strains of Salmonella for use in vaccines. With IBM Big Data analytics technology, it took less than a week for the university to analyze 1.4 million Web pages, including opinion blogs, social networks and documents. The analytics technology sorted through a wide variety of information and analyzed the contents in real time to find relevant details, ultimately identifying potential investors and partners.

The pilots at NC State were conducted in collaboration with the university's College of Management Bioscience Management Group and its Center for Management Studies.

As part of this project, NC State is using:

  • IBM BigSheets, part of IBM's BigInsights portfolio, a software engine that helps get insights from really large data sets easily and quickly
  • IBM LanguageWare, a text analytics tool created by IBM's Dublin Software Lab in Ireland for the purpose of harnessing the wealth of unstructured data contained in text documents, Web site content and enterprise applications
  • IBM Cognos Content Analytics, an analytics software which gives organizations the necessary tools to access and analyze the volumes of unstructured content.

These three components were running on IBM Distribution of Apache Hadoop. The analytics solution interfaced with the University's TechTracS database, developed by Knowledge Sharing Systems. The proprietary database supports innovation m anagement functions and is used by the technology transfer offices of many universities to manage their IP portfolios. "It has its base modules that we have customized for ouruse at NC state," says Houghteling. "We license use of several seats of the TecTracS software and, in partnership with Knowledge Sharing Systems, we pay for process improvements particular to our processes and practices."The relational TechTracS database is used for all the agreement tracking, invention disclosure tracking, compliance, and patent management for the Unversity. It is also from that database that the department launches all of its  marketing activities to potential partners.

In the pilot phase, the interface between the IBM Big Data solution and the transfer management database went smoothly, and Houghteling says "I don't foresee any challenges related to transferring information gathered by use of analytics tools into our transfer management database."

Business Benefits Realized

So far, the IBM Big Data pilots delivered two strong benefits, says Houghteling:

  1. They reduced the triage process down to seven to 10 days from two to four months;
  2. The licensing professionals are now able to use their newfound time to work on raising the university's technology profile and building new business opportunities.

"This would allow staff to have more time to manage those strategic assets that have been overlooked, or work on activities that result in new business formation," says Houghteling. For example, in addition to technology transfer, one of the things the department does is launch new companies based on some of the technologies being developed within the university. To date, 70 companies developed by faculty, staff or students have been launched, says Houghteling.

As the pilots continue, he says, "We're definitely in the process of making the business case [for a full deployment]. There aren't necessarily budget limitations to make the transfer of these tools happen, it's just the next step of the discussion. We are optimistic that our partnership with IBM doesn't end here, and we are committed to expanding collaboration management and use of Big Data to transform technology transfer process."

Adds Houghteling, "It's only a matter of time before these tools become available to every member of my office to test and see how they improve their daily flow of work and efficiency."