Collaboration and social networks have become an incredible cultural phenomenon. The opportunity for the internet to bring people together and collaborate in ways that were previously impossible (or at least really inefficient) is an interesting curiosity. But, while there is definitely fun in social networking sites and social media (those of you who haven’t seen the Fatboy Slim video with Christopher Walken on YouTube are in for a treat), I continue to look for the utility and value.

So far, these sites have just been a source of entertainment and fancy for me, but at the same time interconnectedness and interdependence are shaping our world and the internet is unquestionably a major force in making this happen. People much smarter than me have been writing and speaking about this for the past couple of years. While I am convinced that interconnectedness is an incredible enabler and that it is having profound impacts in our world, I continue to struggle with finding the utility for technology transfer and the commercialization of research.

If there is a role for technology transfer to play in supporting social goals (such as world health) then interconnections and collaboration can be a powerful thing.

In The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki discusses how the WHO set up a website and undertook a collaborative multicenter research project to isolate the SARS virus. Through this approach, in less than a month it was identified that the coronavirus did in fact cause SARS. (I remember this clearly through my work with Flintbox, as Sockeye, the software used to isolate the genome for the corona virus, was licensed over 1600 times by users around the world.)

If there is a role for technology transfer to play in making research institutions work better together, initiatives such as The West Coast Licensing Partnership — a soon to be launched bundling initiative that will streamline the licensing of life sciences technologies — is a great example of how this can work. The project will link nine universities under one website to license life sciences materials under common license agreements.

And if there is a role for technology transfer to help create economic wealth from research through licensing and access to research artifacts (and not solely to maximize the economic returns for the research institution), then interconnectedness may be necessary to encourage collaboration, bring together research and industry, and work its magic on technology transfer, in the same way it has with social networking.

Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith is Project Director at Flintbox, a global intellectual property exchange providing open access to innovation. Stephen has worked in information technology in the private and public sector as a programmer, project manager and then in business development and technology licensing. He is also President and CEO of Webnames.ca. See more…