Navigating industry partnerships through COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold over a year ago, universities and research institutions experienced a detrimental impact to many of their ongoing projects, and a pivoting of research interests was forced upon them. In this live Q&A panel webinar, we discussed these experiences as well as new approaches to navigating industry partnerships through techniques such as non-exclusive royalty-free licenses. 

Introducing our panellists…

Andrew Bailey, Senior Manager (University of Cape Town) Andrew is responsible for the protection of IP, implementation of the institutional IP policy, raising awareness of IP, as well as commercialisation of IP and technology transfer.

Anne Spieth, Marketing Associate (University of Arizona) Following roles in some of the largest publishing companies, Anne now develops and executes targeted marketing plans and campaigns for University of Arizona technologies, responding to industry calls for relevant technologies and helping to build connections between the inventors and innovations of the University and industry.

Doug Franz, Technology Licensing Officer (University of Minnesota) Prior to his current position as a Technology Licensing Officer at the University of Minnesota, Doug has spent many years in product and business development roles within a variety of companies, as well as gathering experience as an R&D Director and startup consultant.


navigating industry partnerships webinar panelists

How have technology transfer offices been navigating industry partnerships during COVID-19? 

Aside from the familiar story of working from home and having to juggle child-care and professional responsibilities simultaneously, our panellists shared some interesting issues that they faced immediately after COVID-19 reached their respective locations such as the halting of clinical trials, as well as the pivoting of research interests, changes in licensing and IP and more long-term effects. 

Our panellists highlighted that the first port-of-call was to assess how their current research repertoire could be repurposed to act as an intervention against the virus, and to update any existing technologies to examine their possible applications against the pandemic. 

For instance, Anne recalls one researcher who had repurposed a technology initially developed for food safety into a natural disinfectant. Doug also cited a tool designed to show cracked ribs being used to show the presence of COVID-19 in the lungs. This strategy of repurposing is expected to continue, and existing technologies are already being assessed for use against possible future pandemics. 

In terms of the pivoting of research interests, the panellists concurred that at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, much attention was turned to developing products such as visors and ventilators. With much of the blueprints for these interventions being under non-exclusive licenses, broader collaborations could be forged more quickly, although this did sometimes result in copyright/trademark issues around product names and designs. 

Looking forward, Andrew suggested that the pooling of data from international hospitals, something which has been heavily utilised during the pandemic, may play a key part in future global challenges for determining factors such as chances of survival. Furthermore, our panellists emphasised that the pandemic has shown that it is possible to fast-track the research collaboration process; something which can hopefully be appropriately applied in the future. 

One year into the pandemic, how are things looking now with research commercialisation? 

Our panelists reported that their institutes are currently (June 2021) approaching a more normal state-of-play, with campuses reopening and non-Covid research projects restarting. Anne highlighted that COVID-19 interventions are still regarded as high priority, and inventions in this research area are still very much part of the present, despite vaccines now being widely distributed. 

It was interesting to hear that the panel believe the pandemic has brought industry and academia closer together, and that it has galvanised the two communities into establishing strong industrial capacities specialised around regional academic expertise with the ability to combat future pandemics. The panelists surmised that this of course also relies on both government funding and charitable donations, such as that of Patrick Soon-Shiong who has provided around $250 million dollars worth of funding for the South African vaccination industry. 

What’s the future of IP and licensing after the experiences of COVID-19? 

As the panel chair Stephen rightly stated, ideas around non-exclusive royalty-free licensing have become a ‘can of worms’ and is a topic worthy of a much more in-depth discussion than the time allotted to the webinar allowed. Nonetheless, the panel raised some thought-provoking viewpoints on the subject, with a consensus that non-exclusive, royalty-free licenses for Covid-related research in line with a humanitarian approach to get interventions out into the public as quickly as possible should continue to be the status quo when navigating industry partnerships. However, the panelists are unsure whether this approach could be replicated for other global challenges with concerns of product quality being raised. 

Andrew suggested that an alternative to non-exclusive licensing could be controlling the profits on certain IP. To avoid unintended consequences, notions of availability and affordability should be at the forefront of commercialisation rather than solely IP. 

Access the full recording of the webinar:


Written by Jake Mitchell. Edited by Alex Stockham.

Copyrights reserved unless otherwise agreed – IN-PART Publishing Ltd., 2021: ‘Navigating industry partnerships during COVID-19

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