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Group innovation

Institutions from the Northeast join up to take out patents and share experiences

BRAZThe Innovation Law passed in 2004 obliged universities and research institutes to create the so-called Centers of Technological Innovation (NITs), aimed at managing their innovation policies and protecting intellectual property in such a way as to guarantee that the results of their research reach society. Therefore, a group of institutions from the Northeast, led by the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) decided to face up to this new challenge in a cooperative way. The result is the NIT-NE network, which now includes 15 public universities, technical schools, research institutions and start-up companies in six states in Northeast Brazil. These entities are operating jointly at various points along the intellectual property chain, such as preparing expert human resources, technological prospecting, cooperation for increasing the registration of patents, brands and software, and negotiations with companies to license technologies.

In this network, each institution develops expertise in accordance with its vocation, and shares it with the other members. UFBA has specialized, for example, in training human resources by offering undergraduate and postgraduate courses in technological prospecting and intellectual property; it also monitors a calendar of events of common interest, at which members of the network meet, generally speaking. The Federal University of Sergipe (UFS), on the other hand, has plunged into the world of legislation relating to these matters and has supplied its partners with its resolution model that deals with ownership, authors’ rights and other aspects of intellectual production at the institution. The Federal University of Paraiba has compiled the types of forms needed for assessing the potential of the appropriation of researchers products, requests for brands and  has deposited patents and software. Except for intellectual property, which belongs to each institution, the rest is shared among the centers. Among the tasks carried out jointly, two items also stand out: a leaflet on the steps for registering intellectual property and a monthly electronic journal, with news of interest to members of the network.

Brands and patents
Internally, each member looks after promoting courses and workshops (the teaching material of which is shared), that make students and researchers aware of the importance of protecting intellectual property and of how to do this. “Our aim is to disseminate the  culture of innovation, the transfer of technology and the synchronized development of the various regions, as well as an entrepreneurial attitude among business people, in addition to making each link in the intellectual property chain work properly. We want research to come away from work benches in the laboratory and reach society”, says Cristina M. Quintella, a professor from the Institute of Chemistry of the UFBA and one of the founders of the NIT-NE Network. “This is an unprecedented initiative that makes interaction with government and business sectors easier”, says Reinaldo Dias Ferraz, general coordinator of Technological Services for the Ministry of Science and Technology (MST).

One of the refrains from the web of institutions is the idea that its researchers, instead of focusing solely on the publication of scientific articles, should first assess the appropriation potential of their findings (taking out patents, creating brands and depositing software, for example), and try to protect them, as necessary. “Brazil needs to take a quantum leap in patent registration and this starts with the universities, because unlike what happens in other countries, academia is involved in a mission that should be the responsibility of companies”, says Ana Eleonora Paixão, coordinator of the network in the Federal University of Sergipe (UFS). “In Brazil, over 70% of the researchers are within universities.”

The first results of the network, which has multiplied thanks to funds from the Bahia Research Protection Foundation (Fapesb), Research and Projects Financing (Finep) and the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) are prolific. The goal of 52 processes involving intellectual property has been exceeded: there have been 62 processes involving depositing software, brands and above all requests for patents, in areas such as epoxy coatings, liquefied gas, biodiesel, agricultural equipment and dentistry products. More than 20 technological prospecting projects have been carried out by the institutions. Courses have been held for five undergraduate groups, in which students learned about evaluating the commercial potential of new technology, as well as for three post-graduate groups, in which students learned how to write a patent; additionally, 11 short courses on intellectual property were also held. The aim of entering partnership arrangements with research development foundations and state bureaus was achieved in Ceará, Bahia and Sergipe, and has been started in Paraíba and Piauí. “Innovation centers were practically non-existent in our region. We were a long way behind in terms of the efforts made by large centers, such as Unicamp and the federal universities of São Carlos, Santa Catarina and Minas Gerais”, says Maria Rita de Morais Chaves Santos, coordinator of the Technological Innovation Center of the Federal University of Piauí (UFPI). In the 80’s and 90’s, several universities in the Northeast set up innovation centers, which, however, failed due to their lack of  structure and, above all, experience in the matter. “The network gave us a unique opportunity to set up our own centers that don’t just depend on a physical structure, but on the existence of well-trained human resources”, Maria Rita says.

Private partners
Bridges have been built with the corporate sector. Four start-up companies and Senai-Cimatec (Integrated Technology and Manufacturing Center), the State of Bahia Federation of Industries’ (Fieb) arm for appropriating technology, have joined the network. An assertive attitude  by the institutions regarding companies interested in licensing technology is another gain. “Until recently R&D contracts and agreements with companies contained clauses relating to confidentiality, secrecy and the use and ownership of intellectual property that were incompatible with the growth and transfer of research to society on fair and concrete terms”, says Cristina M. Quintella. “Today, we already have the result of the first round of negotiations with Petrobras, which is being used as a model for other companies”, she states, referring to a group in charge of negotiating new terms with Petrobras for the transfer of technology and that is led by the president of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), Ivonildo Rego, who is also Vice-president of the National Association of Directors of Federal Institutions of Higher Education (Andifes).

The advent of the NIT-NE Network has enabled the region to become a member of the Brazilian Innovation Managers and Technology Transfer Forum (Fortec). Set up in May 2006, this brings together those people from universities and research institutes who are in charge of managing innovation policies and activities relating to intellectual property and the transfer of technology. “We’ve rapidly managed to join this national effort to manage intellectual property and we’re contributing to it significantly”, says Cristina M. Quintella, Fortec coordinator in the Northeast.

The network started up in August 2004, when Professors Cristina M. Quintella and Ednildo Torres, who at the time was the technology and innovation coordinator at UFBA and is now the coordinator of the Energy and Gas Laboratory (LEN) and of the Biodiesel Pilot Plant of UFBA, became interested in a public bid notice published by the CNPq, with funding to be provided by the Green and Yellow Fund and aimed at stimulating the formation of patent support centers and offices for the transfer of technology. With her substantial experience in cooperative research (her group includes networks of researchers from the North and Northeast regions  involved with advanced materials which won the Petrobras Technology Prize on four consecutive occasions (2003 to 2006) in three different areas), Cristina alerted some of her colleagues, who were linked to the Oil and Natural Gas Sector Fund (CTPetro-Finep) networks in the North and Northeast, to the opportunity of putting together a network capable of helping the innovation centers in several institutions to leverage their efforts. Prof. Ednildo Torres helped to disseminate these ideas. These networks, some of them linked to technology development in the oil and gas areas, were crucial for making the innovation centers web viable. “The networks focused on obtaining products, as required by sector funds, which helped them jointly mature the important notion of protecting intellectual property”, states one of the founders of the NIT-NE Network, Prof. Carlos Antônio Cabral dos Santos, from the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB), who is responsible for coordinating the North Northeast Natural Gas Cooperative Research Network (Recogás).

The proposals presented to the CNPq, however, were not included in the public bid notice. Nonetheless, the group did  not give up on the idea and continued to work, even though it had no funds. It introduced itself to the CEO of the National Institute of Intellectual Property (INPI), Jorge Ávila, who became interested in the project and volunteered to help. This is how the foundations of INPI’s first umbrella contract with the states were laid. In 2005, with CNPq funds once more available, the group’s proposal was reassessed and was awarded R$ 200,000 for a period of 24 months, R$ 80,000 of which were grants. “The first time we received money we took a plane and spent three days with the INPI. Then we went to look at the experience of Inova Unicamp”, says Cristina, referring to the pioneering work that the Innovation Agency of the State University of Campinas does in encouraging partnerships with companies and government bodies and in its search for practical applications in scientific knowledge.

The experience started with the federal universities of Bahia, Sergipe and Paraíba, and with Cefet-BA. In 2006 it received R$ 46,000 for UFBA and Cefet-BA from a public bid released by Fapesb and the INPI, the Support Service for Small and Micro-companies (Sebrae) and the Euvaldo Lodi Institute (IEL), which is linked to the National Confederation of Industry (CNI). Last year, expansion of the NIT-NE Network was granted R$ 1.2 million by Finep and it now encompasses five states (Bahia, Sergipe, Paraíba, Ceará and Piauí). Today, the network includes the Federal University of Alagoas and a Cefet from another region, Espírito Santo, besides maintaining links with the states of Rio Grande do Norte, Pernambuco and Maranhão.

Positive results
Since it joined the network, the Federal Universal of Ceará (UFC) has already made feasible five patent requests in the areas of chemistry, pharmacology and food technology, two of them in partnership with other institutions, in addition to registering software. “We have needed this for a long time, but we didn’t know how to help and the researchers ended up registering patents on their own account with the help of companies specialized in this area”, says Antônio Aritomar Barros, coordinator of the Intellectual Property Center of the UFC and responsible for the NIT-NE network in the state. The institution benefited from the structure created by the federal universities of Bahia, Sergipe and Paraíba. “It was a lot easier to request patents after our partners began sharing with us the requisite documents. Now we just need to make a few adjustments to the wording of the request”, he states.

There is evidence that the expertise generated in the NIT-NE Network is beginning to filter down to other structures. The network’s branch in Sergipe, with its headquarters at UFS, has already lost two of its members. The former coordinator, José Ricardo de Santana, a professor from the Economics Department of UFS, has been made CEO of the Research and Technological Innovation Support Foundation of the State of Sergipe (Fapitec), while scholarship holder Sudanes Barbosa Pereira was invited to take up a  position in the State Bureau of Science and Technology. Prof. Carlos Antônio Cabral dos Santos has become coordinator of technology and innovation at the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB). “We hope that, as a result of the ongoing effort to create quality postgraduate studies in the Northeast and to encourage quality researchers to stay in the region, the appropriation and transfer of products generated by programs and researchers will grow and become routine”, says Cristina Quintella.

Unesp creates an Innovation Center
In late September, Paulista State University (Unesp) launched its Technological Innovation Center (NIT), aimed at depositing requests for intellectual protection of the results of the university’s research, directing its innovation policy, managing the transfer of technology to companies and facilitating dialogue between researchers and business enterprises.

“The center is already functioning with five technology transfer projects currently under way. Unesp has excellent consolidated research, which called for this sort of initiative”, said Vanderlan Bolzani, NIT coordinator and a professor at the Araraquara Institute of Chemistry. Of the five technology transfer projects, contracts have already been signed for four. There is one in Sorocaba, in the nanotechnology area, one in São José do Rio Preto, in agriculture, focusing on pesticides, and two in Araraquara, in the pharmaceutical sector, one phytotherapic and another in cosmetics. According to the Deputy Dean of Research at Unesp, José Arana Varela, NIT intends to guarantee the intellectual property and the generation of new technology and income.

“The Brazilian academic environment needs a culture change as far as patents and innovation are concerned”, says Varela. NIT is going to work with researchers to help them direct their work, in so far as possible, toward the production sector. This body will also provide legal support during the patent request process. We expect the Center, once it becomes consolidated, to become an innovation agency along the lines of those found at the University of São Paulo (USP) and the State University of Campinas (Unicamp).