← Back


Wednesday, 07 March 2018

Celebrating the second Coffee with Pablo

Kicking off the month of March we had the second "Coffee with Pablo" to discuss the ICN2's strategic move towards the greater professionalisation of its technology transfer activities and some of the related ethical issues. With the active participation of employees from all operational areas, the session consolidated this format as a useful forum for internal communication.

This month saw a group of ICN2 employees from across the institute sit down with the ICN2 Director Pablo Ordejón to discuss some universal issues related to institutional strategy and management over coffee. Led by Human Resources, this format brings as many people into wider discussions about the running and priorities of the institute as want to take part, giving them a chance hear from and engage with the institute director in a more informal setting.

The main topic broached in this second "Coffee with Pablo" was the ICN2’s renewed emphasis on commercialisation and industry engagement. Opening the session with an overview of the ICN2’s technology transfer journey, Ordejón explained how the institute has moved from a situation of low activity and minimal interest in having any, to having multiple active patent licences, industry collaborations and spin-offs in just five years.

This evolution largely mirrors changing attitudes in science towards industry relations, which in Europe have gone from being tolerated on occasion, to being deemed acceptable and even recommended as mutually beneficial in a similar period of time. A quick look into the future, though, tells us they are fast becoming a necessity and pressure is on from all sides to engage in ever more transfer activities – a state of affairs that has scientists, including those present at the coffee session, worried for two reasons: the first, because of the neglect of basic science that this trend ostensibly justifies in terms of research funding policies, and second, because of the potential "hostile takeover" of research by the values of the marketplace.

In response, Ordejón, together with Business Development Officer Nadia Pons, explained that the ICN2’s goal will never be the pursuit of the bottom line at all costs. Rather what the institute is proposing is the professionalisation of technology transfer activities and industry relations, such that best practices and knowhow from the world of business are selectively co-opted and applied within the context of our mission as a research institute. The aim of the process is to ensure a fair price is negotiated in exchange for ICN2 expertise and results, especially when trading with private industry, and to improve the path by which more of said expertise can sustainably reach the market and, through it, society.

Part of this process includes helping researchers to realise when transfer is actually happening, for, as was also pointed out at the coffee session, the word “transfer” is susceptible to under-interpretation. Evoking the movement of some finished product from one place or person to another, a conversation is not necessarily thought of as an example of transfer, when in fact the knowhow, expertise and experiences that might be discussed in a conversation between scientists and industry are all “transferrable” assets of some value. And, when a third party intends to use them for private profit, it is only right in the name of the continued pursuit of (public) science to negotiate a fair price.

All in all, it was a very frank, open and participative discussion of some of the trends and policies affecting science at national and European levels, of the value of technology transfer when done right, and of the ICN2’s strategy to ensure that scientific excellence, as the necessary bedrock for all else, can be maintained in spite of the challenges. So much so that the second topic of ethics was left largely untouched... One for the next "Coffee with Pablo"?