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  • Derek McKenzie

Is A Common Understanding of Exploitation Planning Common in EU-funded Research & Innovation

Throughout the project development and implementation life-cycle Exploitation Planning (EP) is a key process to identify and manage exploitation opportunities. Yet, there is no single shared understanding of what should be included in an Exploitation Planning methodology and nor is there a universally established definition of what the term means. The EU publishes guidance[1],[2] on Dissemination and Exploitation Planning of Results in H2020 and a variety of methodologies are offered by professional participants in the Framework Programme who are sometimes beneficiaries[3],[4],[5] in projects. Nevertheless, methodologies for EP vary from project-to-project and although the variety is healthy and should not be stifled, there is a strong case for finding ways of helping Coordinators and beneficiaries to extract greater value from EP activities through a better collective understanding of the processes.

FET projects (now EIC Pathfinder) are exploitation-rich environments that would particularly benefit from better EP resources to help Coordinators. They are targeted at proof-of-concept in a laboratory (TRL 3) and given their quality, it is typical for a clutch of promising ideas and emerging technologies to be identified as having the potential to be exploited. However, their full commercialisation is often a long process, particularly in life science and medical fields where next steps often need additional funding opportunities to raise the TRL in further collaborative research and innovation ventures or clinical trial activities. The full life-cycle may span 5-10 years or more, depending on the field, with EU funding featuring more than twice and potentially concluding with a Fast-Track to Innovation project, or similar, to make the final push into the marketplace.

Better EP support for EIC Pathfinder Coordinators could have potentially long-lasting benefits. Is there a case for establishing a common platform around which collaborators can plan exploitation activities? Could a flexible cloud-based platform to host EP activities be the answer and what benefits would it bring?

· Continuity of EP across the whole life cycle from EIC Pathfinder through to FTI projects

· Establishing a flexible, rigorous approach easily integrated into multi-partner collaborations

· Enhancing the experience of beneficiaries in their interaction with Exploitation Planning to extract more value from the process, manage opportunities more effectively and increase their EP capability.

· Increasing the focus of consortia on managing IP more systematically and generating more patentable opportunities.

But what features of a cloud-based Exploitation Planning solution are needed for EU-funded collaborative R&I that stakeholders could agree upon? There is a need to consult in order to determine their perception of the need or otherwise and what features and flexibility would need to be present in such a platform in order to deliver significant benefit over individual current practices.

A short survey of more than 20 FET project coordinators conducted by DLM Consultancy Services Limited in partnership with Modus Research and Innovation Limited found that more than 50% reported that they lacked appropriate expertise for exploitation planning. Specific problems cited by 75-90% of respondents were a lack of best practice guidance and access to relevant market data. One hundred percent (100%) of respondents thought that case study examples would directly benefit the process and a collaborative digital platform and digital repository were felt to be potentially helpful by 65% and 80% of respondents respectively.

Maintaining a clear line of sight between market requirements and scientific and technical development activities throughout a multi-year, multi-cycle development activity is a realistic and achievable aim, but many projects still suffer from a failure to get the balance right between scientific ‘push’ and market ‘pull’. The desire of scientists to pursue research directions that offer promising potential for novel results (publications) and for industrialists to focus on the evidence of what will gain acceptance in the marketplace are distinct project drivers. They are not irreconcilable, but they do create potential tension because the drivers are different, and the timescales are not always aligned. This dilemma is ever present but can be successfully managed if the communication between the respective sides of the debate is of high quality and discussions feature accurate data and information. As a consequence, EP methodologies need to possess features derived from sound design principles;

· function primarily as a communication tool to unify a consortium behind common exploitation goals;

· be a repository for all EP knowledge and data possessed by a consortium;

· easily modified with the addition of new competitor data, horizon scanning results and IP search data;

· be a method of prioritisation of opportunities (that can be easily re-visited and re-prioritised when new information comes to light as necessary);

· an audit trail of decisions;

· offer a means of continuity in Exploitation Planning allowing users to easily pick-up EP activities from where they left off even after lengthy gaps in EP activity, and;

· instil the need for end-user requirements to be integrated as a key driver of eventual success

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