The impact of experts communicating face-to-face in the same space cannot be overstated. In-depth discussions are held, professional relationships are made, and day-to-day activities are better understood. Especially when those experts work on different continents and are separated by 4,867 miles.
Indiana University personnel traveled to Budapest in May to speak with technology transfer leaders at Hungarian universities as part of a Fulbright Specialist program. From May 13 to 24, Beverly Lyman and John Montgomery of the IU Innovation and Commercialization Office spoke about their own operations and provided training on business opportunities, patent applications, licensing agreements and more.
Lesley E. Davis, assistant dean for international programs at the IU Maurer School of Law, said the Fulbright Specialist program was organized by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office and Fulbright Hungary.
“The idea for this program grew out of an existing plan with Fulbright Hungary to send a Hungarian student to the Maurer School of Law’s master’s program in intellectual property law with a joint Maurer-Fulbright scholarship,” Davis said. “Knowing that IP and tech transfer issues are of special national importance right now, Károly Jókay, the director of Fulbright Hungary, saw another opportunity for IU to be involved with Hungary’s efforts in this regard.”
Seventy attendees from 23 Hungarian universities attended the program. After an opening plenary session, the first week saw in-depth workshops on designated topics for member institutions of the seven-university University Technology Transfer Forum. The second week broadly covered the same topics and was open to representatives from other interested state higher education institutions. The workshops were organized into groups that were small enough to encourage interaction and even minor role-playing scenarios. The program concluded with another plenary session.
Representatives from each university provided an introduction of their technology transfer office’s status and challenges regarding research, development and innovation activities and technology transfer, and suggested questions to cover during the program. They received the workshop program prior to the sessions, indicating the focus of each day: managing an IP portfolio, technology evaluation and marketing, building industry relations and research agreements, and licensing. They also received Lyman’s and Montgomery’s complete presentations for their session.
Ádám Mészáros – head of the Department for Strategy and Innovation Policy in the National Research, Development and Innovation Office – said the main goal of the Fulbright Specialist program was to educate, counsel and provide participants with good examples to support their own university’s technology transfer activities.
“The program also aimed to promote the long-term development of the institutions’ knowledge transfer approach and thinking, and the development of common methodological elements and tools,” Mészáros said. “Raising the awareness of the need for intellectual property management and exploitation in Hungary was also an important part of the program.”
Beverly Lyman, chief intellectual property counsel at IU ICO, said the workshops also encouraged cross-communication across many levels, at many depths and in many channels.
“Attendees not only engaged with IU experts, but also with one another. They formed a strong network of peers and supporters,” Lyman said. “Also, several universities had more than one representative, sometimes a senior-level leader and also someone more at the ground level. They would have conversations among themselves about their operations and what was working or not working.”
The Budapest University of Technology and Economics, or BME, launched its research, development and innovation office in 2018. It is essentially a central technology transfer and commercialization unit: it manages the university’s intellectual property and implements the university’s innovation strategy. András Jókúti, the chief intellectual property advisor, said the IU experts provided valuable advice regarding both starting points and long-term goals for the relatively new office.
“They advised measuring the performance of the office by the number of invention disclosures rather than the number of patent applications. The former is an indicator of the trust university researchers have in officers and their services,” Jókúti said. “They also recommended a bold but gradual approach to grow the office. This includes forming dynamic relationships with faculty and industry, focusing on communication inside and outside the organization, and creating a stimulating environment for student innovation.”
Since the program with IU, BME has seen strong responses from its faculty inventors. Its intellectual property policy is undergoing a two-step review process, which should lead to a new framework to handle IP matters and provide clearer roles and responsibilities. Jókúti said within the past three months there have been 10 inventor inquiries, two of which have resulted in official invention disclosures.
“I have consulted my workshop notes when thinking about IP issues for the 10-year strategic development plans of BME; when giving legal opinions on draft research cooperation agreements with industry partners; and when drafting provisions of BME’s policies, which are under review,” Jókúti said. “The presentations contain great advice, background information, templates and useful explanations of some of IU’s IP policy rules.”
Montgomery, senior manager of innovation and commercialization at IU ICO, said the program showed that successes and challenges at technology transfer offices are universal.
“I learned that we all share the same issues and opportunities regarding finding funding, communicating with faculty members and more,” Montgomery said. “The great thing about this business is that university technology transfer offices are not in competition; we have very collaborative relationships. We can share best practices with international peers through government offices and personal e-mail, and we can all benefit.”