Doctoral students findings: “We obviously have a patent elite here.”
While all the more is being talked about innovation, the fact is that researchers at Swedish universities could know a great deal more about how to commercialise their ideas. For example, you do not have to state if you have applied for or received a patent.
When doctoral students Charlotta Dahlborg and Danielle Lewensohn from the Bioentrepreneurship Unit at KI’s Department of Learning, Informatics, Management and Ethics (LIME) present their theses next year, they hope to fill this knowledge gap, at least when it comes to the innovative powers of the university’s own researchers.
“There have been no statistics on the inventions and innovations being made at Swedish universities, which makes it hard for them to assert themselves globally,” says Ms Lewensohn.
At a seminar held at the Widerström Building, the doctoral students presented a review of all patents that have been granted in the past fifteen years to KI scientists. Their efforts have resulted in the Karolinska Institutet Intellectual Property (KIIP) database, which also contains details of the patents’ lifetimes and who currently owns them.
There is general consensus that research is to have some sort of societal significance, rather than be merely a matter for the individual scientist or university.
“Tax payers pump huge sums of money into research but have no idea what they get for it in terms of inventions, enterprises and jobs,” says Ms Dahlborg. “This we can now find out by measuring patenting.”
To discover just how good KI scientists are at commercialising their research, they searched for employees’ names in databases between 1995 and 2010. The fruits of their labours gave 437 researchers and over 700 inventions. Since 7,110 researchers were employed over the same period, this equates to just over 6 per cent of the staff.
“This isn’t an unusual figure and is on a par with other universities around the world,” says Ms Dahlborg.
Another review by other researchers shows that patenting does not occur at the expense of publication. What is clear, however, is that the same people are behind many of the patents.
“35 researchers account for half of the inventions,” says Ms Lewensohn. “We obviously have a patent elite here.”
Ms Lewensohn believes that individual researchers need stronger incentives to put their energies into innovation: “There’s a pressure on you to churn out your thesis quickly and to produce articles. Most people aren’t against commercialisation – it’s just that you have to decide what to concentrate your efforts on as a researcher.”
Text: Maja Lundbäck
Photo: Ulf Sirborn
“Innovation support can use these data to ascertain which research groups at KI are responsible for patented inventions and which have founded hive-off companies,” says Ms Lewensohn.
It can also reveal which groups need more innovation support.
“You can also develop reward systems for innovative research groups,” says Ms Dahlborg.
They hope that their method will eventually be used at more of the country’s universities.