Paper citations in patents as a business development tool

Last March this year Redtransfer organised a meeting for Spanish tech transfer managers in Madrid  where colleagues presented their views and experiences on several topics. Pedro Fernandez‘s talk caught my attention. A new, at least for me, use of patent databases as a tool to get leads for networking and commercialisation strategies.
The idea is to use the capability of some patent search engines to search papers for citations of patents, to check out our own papers, or the papers of a person of interest. When someone cites your paper in a patent you have a good argument to contact them and explore a partnering interest.
I have gone over the papers of the researchers I work with and indeed the tool has brought up a few surprises that are worth checking. The main drawback is that citation of papers in patents is not widespread and many times you will find none or very few leads even for papers that have good scientific impact.
All in all the tool can uncover interesting pieces of information of your research, and albeit with limited success in general, it can be a useful tool for business development and networking of an established research profile.
How to do it

Go to and choose the «Scholar» search option in the search field. Run a search and find the paper or papers that you would like to check. A search with author names is usually a good way to get several relevant papers in the same search. Then check their linked patent citations for leads!

Talking to investors

Technologies developed in Academia usually follow two paths towards commercialisation: (i) they get licenced to an established company or (ii) they are the basis of a spinout company. In the second case the spinout is usually initially led by the academic researchers, and it becomes critical quickly to recruit management expertise, funding and market knowledge.

We have been figuring out the opportunity to spinout the bone regeneration technologies developed in our labs in Glasgow. We’ve had interactions with a few different professionals working in one way or another in the biomedical market, and we have seen an interesting and valuable side of the conversation when talking with potential investors.

The interaction of investors and the spinout team can be not only about presenting a novel technology and the plans to make it to market. It’s also a chance to learn from them, learn what they know about the target market of the spinout. Most investors are specialised and know well the market they operate. We can then use the information gathered to better adapt ongoing or future R&D plans towards applications with more chances of success.

For instance, in the lab in Glasgow we have discussed with investors our planned bone grafting applications and pre-clinical models and have as a consequence looked into clinical indications where our technologies can make a more significant improvement, compared to current available treatments. Our techs work very well in the animal models that we have carried out so far, but approved clinical products also work well in those models. The comparable clinical outcomes, even with a somewhat cheaper price, may make it difficult for the clinician and health provider to risk a change. In conclusion, we are planning development for indications and relevant pre-clinical models that address bigger challenges in terms of clinical outcomes, indications with available products in the market providing a less satisfactory solution.

As a way to start this kind of conversation the spinout team can ask about the type of products and techs that are getting investment in the field. Companies to look at that we can study to learn what they are doing right? What are the segments in the market, the end-users, that are drawing attention. For instance, in the biomedical field, we can ask about the indications that are of their interest. Our technologies in Glasgow are primarily focused on bone regeneration so we want to learn about the orthopaedic applications that could use our technologies.

We can also ask investors about feedback on our commercialisation strategy, check with them if the business model we have devised is the one that makes more sense in the current market, and discuss the timing of spinout regarding ongoing R&D, especially if there is a big gap and risks between where the technology is at the moment and where it needs to be before it is commercialised. This is particularly relevant in the biomedical field, where regulatory issues are very important and can take a long time and large investments and be unsuccessful nevertheless.

Creativity in programs to foster innovation from Academia

In the past I have been involved in a few small or medium-sized initiatives to fund research or innovation. Policy makers that design these programmes have to balance the urge to guide the activity towards what they think it’s the right way to spend the money while allowing for the freedom and incentives needed to engage a sufficient number of academics. Actions that fund Academia and Industry collaborations struggle the most with this. One can find from very flexible frameworks of collaboration to specific, and creative, actions that fund interactions between university researchers and companies.

Below there’s a list of a few calls and programmes from UK Research Councils or internal university funds that support actions in direct collaboration with industry or towards spinning out and commercialising technology.

Centres for Doctoral Training (EPSRC)
CDTs are one of the three main ways by which the EPSRC provides support for doctoral training. The other routes are the Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP) and Industrial CASE Studentships (ICASE) and basically allow more or less industry involvement and discretion in choosing the strategic focus of the PhD. In CDTs one or several universities together with industrial sponsors supervise students (at least 10 per year for 5 years) all focused in one of a number of priority areas of national strategic interest. Industry needs to finance about 20% to 40% of the total cost of the studentships. The EPSRC defines what are the priority areas of research but gives flexibility on the models of collaboration between industry and academia.

Flexible Talent Mobility Account (BBSRC)
The FTMA supports Academic/Industry secondments and collaboration, as a two way people exchange. It covers the expenses of a secondment (not research) and it’s open to research students and postdocs. Awards of £5k-10k expected, with a duration of 1 week to 3 months.

Industrial Partnership PhDs (UofG, College of MVLS)
Short Term Industrial Projects, to develop solutions to grow business. 3 month placement, for a laboratory or desk-based project to support business needs.

PhD in Precision Medicine (Medical Research Council)
A 3.5 – 4 year PhD with industry, to increase collaboration with industry and gain skills in two distinct research cultures. Includes a 3 month placement with industry.

Proximity to Discovery (Medical Research Council)
Funding for engagement with industry (secondments or networking). Awards of £2k-£6k. Does not support industry or research costs.

Confidence in Concept (Medical Research Council)
Translation of fundamental science. Preliminary translational work. Diagnostics and therapeutic projects. Advancement of the path to commercialisation. Awards of £50-100K. Requires match funding (monetary or in-kind). Project expected to last 6-12 months. Reported research outcomes upon completion. Not for bridging funds or IP costs.

Excellence with Impact (BBSRC)
Stakeholder engagement. Projects in line with BBSRC strategic plan and can include: Product design, engagement with stakeholders, market intelligence. Awards of up to £5k assessed on case by case. Awards >£5k are panel assessed. Not for public engagement, staff or industry costs.

RSE Enterprise Fellowship overview (Royal Society of Engineering)
RSE Enterprise Fellowships enable promising science and technology researchers to develop into successful entrepreneurs. Awardees get to focus solely on refining their business ideas, whilst receiving one year’s salary, expert training in entrepreneurship and access to mentorship from business Fellows of the RSE and other successful entrepreneurs in the business community.

Impact Acceleration Accounts (several Research Councils)
UK Universities usually hold Impact Acceleration Accounts (IAA) from the BBSRC, EPSRC and ESRC, that aim to increase, advance and accelerate the achievement of impact from research council’s funded projects. The IAAs supports a range of Knowledge Exchange (KE) interventions with a focus on small-scale investments that pump-prime wider KE activities and impact generation. The IAAs typically provides two core funding streams to build on previous research council funded projects, proof-of-concept, and collaborative development.


Setting up a start-up in the EU

If you are thinking of setting up a new company anywhere in the EU, specially if it’s innovation based, the European Commission has a very good online resource with information and contacts to help you do it.
From guidance on IP rights, taxation, regulations to follow, contacts of local business support partners, to EU funding programmes, and a very useful database/map of SMEs funded with EU programmes.