My professional career, up to now, has been a path that I would call strange, studded with events in many ways unpredictable, even if I would not feel like saying that the final result was “random”, nor unexpected. Doing a retrospective analysis – which is getting easier – my fate in the field of innovation was probably sealed.
Although I managed to finish my studies with full marks, thesis writing and the laboratory experience were mostly unsuccessful: I was not inclined to stand behind the bench and repeat the same experiment in a constant and precise way for a number of times greater than … two. I was much more interested in seeking solutions for new problems for which a standardized method or approach did not yet exist. I’m not saying that “problem solving” is not a prerogative of all scientists, on the contrary … but the problem was me who was bored too quickly when the solution was found and had to be validated again and again.
It was 2007 and the Politecnico, together with the Università di Torino that Università del Piemonte Orientale, had just started a project for the establishment of a joint ILO (Industrial Liaison Office) for the whole regional territory. I had no idea what ILO was; I was told that they were in charge of Technology Transfer (TT), so what? Was this supposed to help me in any way? My friend and ex-professor of Biotechnology pushed me to apply. At first, I was doubtful, but I tried. I was chosen together with 4 other candidates (2 of whom are still active and experts in their respective offices today). So, on the 1st of July 2007 I embarked on my career in Technology Transfer (TT).
I soon realized that TT was the job for me, not only because I was approaching a new phenomenon that almost nobody knew yet (this I understood later), but because it was the perfect synthesis of my interests in the scientific field and my aptitudes: I had to “sell” the research results to encourage innovation and contribute to the progress and well-being of society. Subsequently, I undertook a PhD in Business and Management at the Università di Torino which I obtained in 2011, and in 2012 I became the Head of the Contracts Office within the Research and Technology Transfer Area of the Politecnico, which I quickly renamed “Technology Transfer and Industrial Relations Office“.
Knowledge Share came out of this trip into Innovation and Technology Transfer.
The original idea conceived in 2016 was straightforward: a showcase of patents that would serve as an “online catalogue” to be used at B2B meeting events, a sort of university fair – between our inventors and the companies interested in their inventions (the first Tech Share Day) to be held at the Politecnico.
Since then many things have happened and the project has evolved – mainly spreading throughout Italy – and grown significantly, but its DNA has remained unchanged and still represents one of the critical success factors of this initiative: being an online showcase that “tells” in plain language the content of technologies patented by universities, research centres and hospitals, which in the most recent versions, highlights the advantages and possible applications of said technologies.
Be careful not to fall into a trap: it may seem trivial to “translate” the contents of a patent and the knowledge of the researchers-inventors into a “popular” document addressed to a large and unskilled audience, but anyone who has ever come across scientific popularization, knows well how complex and expensive (in terms of time … and stress) it can be. This is demonstrated by today’s many platforms that exist at a global level that allow you to search for patents and are aimed at promoting the intersection of supply and demand for technologies, but almost all of them are limited to giving more or less, effective representations of the original patent data, asking the reader to interpret that strange technical and decidedly hermetic language that insiders often call “patent speak”.
A crucial moment was when, following the first edition of the 2016 Tech Share Day, we realized that we had created a container with interesting and really functional content, but that we had neither the numbers nor the strengths to sustain a continuous rhythm that allowed us to keep the attention of the target audience high, and achieve a dignified web positioning. It was then that, thanks to my involvement in Netval, we thought of proposing the project to the network.
The basic idea was trivial: if all 89 Netval members published their patents on the KS platform and promoted its use to their network of contacts, the technologies published would reach an infinitely larger audience pool than the one it could have, if singularly addressed. Hence the turning point… Netval, which for years has been collaborating profitably with the Italian Patent and Trademark Office of MISE, proposed the KS project to the Office which almost immediately accepted to support its growth, understanding its potential and alignment with its institutional goals of supporting the development of companies.
Today those who connect to the platform can navigate more than a thousand technologies, stemming from many research fields, available in both Italian and in English, with the possibility of downloading a “marketing brief” for sharing within their organization and with external partners. With a few clicks the user is able to request a contact with the technology transfer office, in this case the “owner” of the technology, with a guaranteed reply within 48 hours. In recent weeks we have also created a section dedicated to technologies with possible applications in the field of the health emergency from COVID-19 which we hope will support the development of useful solutions to safeguard our health or at least to restart our economy and businesses Italian.
I believe that by now the most relevant result achieved in the evolution of technology transfer at the Italian level, also thanks to initiatives like knowledge share is the cultural growth (“most relevant” however, does not mean completed … for that we still have a long way to go). I had no idea what TT was 15 years ago, but since then much has changed and today more and more people understand its importance and implications.
Personally, I believe that the enhancement of research results is an extremely contemporary theme in a world that pays more and more attention to sustainability (of objects, lifestyles, business models, etc.) and strongly feels about “reuse. ”
The valorisation of research results, their adoption at application level and even more the impact that this can generate on society are in my opinion the essential elements of a sustainable research model.
There are ample ongoing debates on the “new centrality” of science, brought to the surface by the communicative and interpretative difficulties of the health emergency from COVID-19. On one hand this gives us fertile ground for claiming (and rightly so) for more research investment, but on the other hand – as a taxpayer myself – I demand to know how system in which these resources are invested in, is able to create value for those who, in the end, financed them; the citizens.
Here, I could say that this is my personal definition of technology transfer: the set of actions that must be implemented – in an organized and systematic way – to maximize the probability that the results of research (attention: also – and perhaps above all – the preliminary one) can be adopted generating a positive impact on society.