We have worked with university tech transfer offices, small research companies and investors. Here are our observations on different types of research.
1. Ground-Breaking Patentable Research
When scientists opens up a new area of research in their work, it is more likely to be distant from the prior art, and that will allow broad patent claims to be obtained. In addition the work is less likely to be covered by the patent claims of third parties, and so there are less freedom-to-operate issues. However such research tends to be done by scientists who are more ambitious and willing to take risks. Ground-breaking research is also more likely to lead to disruptive technologies.
2. Follow-On Patentable Research
Follow-on research tends to build on ground-breaking work. It may represent important development of a technology and therefore be necessary. However there tend to be more problems obtaining patents as the previous ground-breaking research will be relevant prior art, and only narrow claims might be obtained. In addition there may be freedom-to-operate issues due to patents directed to the ground-breaking work.
3. Commercialisable Research
Tech Transfer Offices are in the position of having to identify research that will attract commercial interest. In our experience they only succeed in finding commercial partners for around 5% of their patent cases. The markets are not necessarily the most-informed or wisest decision-makers, often following trends and being shy of areas where there have been a lot of failures.
4. Patentable Research That Cannot be Policed
Sometimes it is possible to obtain a patent for an invention, but due to its nature it can be difficult to police infringement of the patent. Screening methods which identify useful compounds are an example of this, where it is impossible to tell from the marketed product how it was identified. These considerations apply to many research tool inventions, and so the commercial reasons for filing a patent application must be reviewed carefully to ensure the patent will provide value.
5. Risky Research
Some types of research are simply not successful. Promising drug candidates will often turn out to be ineffective in clinical trials. These risk considerations should be properly understood when investing and when deciding whether to file a patent application.
6. Competing Technologies
It must be remembered that successful research is often difficult to translate into commercial success because the new technology must displace existing technologies, and if that is not economically feasible then customers may decide not to invest in the new technology. At the moment this is particularly true with new drugs which are not substantially better than existing drugs.
7. Essential Non-Commercialisable Research
Certain types of research are needed simply for the advancement of science, but there has to be an acceptance that there is little chance that patents or commercialisation will be possible. Clearly public funding is a very good way of ensuring such research is done.
8. Research in the National Interest
Clearly every government must review whether or not it needs to fund certain areas of research to further its national interests. That may be for the purpose of ensuring its own food security, for example, or to develop a research base in an important area. However research is not always the best option. For example it may be better for certain countries to have more mobile clinics rather than funding expensive research into new treatments.
9. Researching Appropriate Technologies
Where solutions are being developed to solve certain problems, there must be choosing of the most appropriate technology. Cost, ease of maintenance and repair, and ability to operate optimally in local conditions all need to be considered. High tech solutions may not always be the answer.
10. Research That Does Not Duplicate Efforts
A lot of research is duplicated around the world. The internet provides a new means to assess what research has already been done by other organisations and how best to make use of that. For example pharma companies are presently offering their existing compound libraries for testing against new diseases.
You may also wish to see related articles What Do You Need to Know About Commercial Biotech? and What is Wrong with Big Pharma R&D?