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Immature system

Brazilian universities occupy the space that should belong to companies in the ranking of patents

Universities occupy the space that should be that of companies in the production of technological knowledge in Brazil. A survey carried out by the National Institute for Industrial Property (INPI) shows that a public university, Unicamp, holds first place in the ranking for patent requests in the country. The study took into account the registrations filed at the INPI between 1999 and 2003. During this period Unicamp presented 191 requests. In second place appears the company Petrobras with 177 requests, followed by other companies such as Arno, Multibrás, Semeato and Vale do Rio Doce. The dispute between Unicamp and Petrobras was tough, but the university was in first place in three of the five years contemplated within the study. What calls the attention is that among the first 20 places, 8 are linked to the public sector and five are universities. FAPESP, in 7th place, is the best placed development organ in the ranking with 83 requests. Other universities also figure on the list with the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) in 10th place, the University of Sao Paulo (USP) in 12th, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) in 16th, the National Council for Scientific and Technological development (CNPq) in 17th, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) in 18th and the São Paulo  State University (Unesp) in 19th.

“This result should be commemorated because it’s the fruit of a consistent effort by Unicamp, but also a reason for great concern”, says Maria Beatriz Amorim Páscoa, the articulation director at INPI. “More effective participation from companies continues to be lacking in this ranking”, she says. In the developed countries, the share of universities involved in the protection of intellectual property normally remains way down from that of industry. In the United States, for example, only 5% of the patents conceded belong to universities. The University of California, with its ten campuses, was the institution that held the most conceded patents in the country during 2003. There were 439. This number is a small fraction of the performance of the leader among companies, IBM, with 3,415 registrations. It works in this manner because it is the private companies who have the crucial need to protect their inventions from competitors.

The mission of the university has a much wider coverage: it is up to it to educate students and to produce and spread knowledge. Eventually this leads to the generation of patents. “The data from INPI contradicts the argument that the good Brazilian universities are leaving in second place an interest in technology. In spite of material restrictions, some universities are managing  to get relevant results in the obtaining and licensing of patents, which can still be seen on a smaller scale alongside companies, with honorable exceptions”, says Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP’s scientific director and Unicamp’s ex-rector.

It is true that the companies participating in the Brazilian ranking display exemplary histories on the path of innovation. Arno, which represents 148 requests between 1999 and 2003, belongs to the French group SEB, which invests 3% of its income on research and has an international tradition in the registration of patents. The agricultural machine industry company, Semeato, from Rio Grande do Sul State, maintains 300 employees developing products and feels the need to preserve its intellectual property in order to combat copies created by competitors. But one can say  that such cases are not representative of the behavior of Brazilian companies.

What would be necessary for this situation to be altered? “More researchers working in companies are needed, as the experience of various other countries has demonstrated”, says  Brito Cruz, from FAPESP. The case of Spain is emblematic. Between 1981 and 2000, the number of researchers working in companies multiplied by a factor of six. And it grew at the same speed as the number of Spanish patents registered at Uspto, the patents and trademark office of the United States.

For 2003, the National Research of Technological Innovation (Pintec) registered a fall in the number of Brazilian companies that are carrying out research and development in a continuous manner – there were 2,432 in 2003 as against 3,178 in 2000. “This is very serious and the damage goes beyond that which the indicators suggest”, observes Eduardo da Motta e Albuquerque, a professor at the Regional Development and Planning Center of the Economic Sciences School of UFMG. “The interaction between companies and the academic world is not working well. In other countries innovation in the universities is pushed forward by demands generated in the research and development centers of companies. Here in Brazil, as companies carry out little research, this push is weak”, advised professor Albuquerque.

Front running
The feebleness of companies can be measured according to various indicators. A comparison between Brazil and South Korea is significant. In 2002, the South Koreans filed more than 3,400 patent requests in the United States, as against a little more than 100 by Brazil. The two countries have a scientific community of similar size, but in South Korea around 80% of the scientists dedicate themselves to carrying out research and development in industry, whilst in Brazil industry does not absorb more than 10% of this qualified work force.

The front running by Unicamp is the fruit of a strategy that can be traced back to the decade of the 1980’s. Initially, the CPPI (Permanent Commission for Industrial Property) was set up in 1984, to be followed by the ETT (Office for Technological Transfer) during 1990, and afterwards the Edistec (Office for Diffusion and Technological Services), in 1998. These offices were born with the objective of stimulating partnerships with companies and government organs and to search for practical applications for scientific knowledge (read the report about projects developed by Unicamp on page 66). During the first years, the average number of patents filed remained at around a dozen per year. In 2003 Unicamp’s innovation agency, Inova Unicamp, was established, a much more daring and efficient initiative, including within the agency the licensing of industrial property. Today the average has risen to 60 patents per year, which amounts to more than one patent per week.

With an accumulated archive of 300 patent requests, the Inova Unicamp has gone on to dedicate itself more strongly to a second challenge: the commercialization of patents by way of the celebration of licensing contracts with companies. If during the fifteen years prior to the creation of the university’s agency there had been only seven licenses, with the establishing of the Inova Unicamp this number went up to ten contracts in 2004 and 12 in 2005. There are companies that are celebrating various licensing contracts with Unicamp, as is the case with the laboratory Cristalia. As it takes five years at the minimum for a patent to be granted, the commercialization starts shortly after the request of the patent deposit. The possible risks are shared between the university and the company.

The merit of Unicamp’s innovation agency, observes its executive director Roberto de Alencar Lotufo, was that of inaugurating in Brazil the style of a university center of innovation focused on the commercialization of industrial property, but nonetheless respecting the university’s academic character. “Unicamp is perhaps the institution that most invested in an innovation agency, an effort that is beginning to be shared today by other institutions such as the IPT and USP”, explains Lotufo. “The quality of the academic research done at the university is the basis for all. Not by chance, do Unicamps units that have the highest number of licenses, also have the highest marks in the Capes’ evaluation and the highest number of international publications.”

The university’s interest goes beyond that of the traditional concept of technology transfer. International experience shows that the idea that the advantage of patenting is to gain royalties in order to finance its academic activities is outdated. This is because the examples of significant financial gain are extremely rare. An editorial published in the magazine Nature on the 13th of April dealt with this change. “Although people at times suppose that the function of technology transfer offices is to make money for the universities by way of the collection of royalties, the thinking of academic directors has been changing”, the editorial registered. “Instead of this, its main role is to develop the ties of the universities with the world of business in such a manner as to benefit students, researchers and society.” Almost the same words are in the deliberation with which Unicamp’s University Council institutionalized the Inova, in which is correctly affirmed: “Article 1º – Unicamp’s Innovation Agency is now established – Inova Unicamp” within the Office of the Rector, with the mission of strengthening partnerships between Unicamp and companies, government organs and other organizations in society, creating opportunities so that the activities of teaching and research will benefit from these interactions and contribute to the economic and social development of the country”.

The use of knowledge transference agencies is to protect intellectual property so as to guarantee that the diffusion of knowledge produced by the university happens in a safe manner, by way of a contract with a company. “It will not be through university patents that the technological development of the country will occur. This can only be born through research and development activities in companies”, advised director Roberto Lotufo. “Nevertheless, the universities have a role in the formation of professionals educated in the frontier of technological advance, and to have experience in intellectual property makes up part of this education”, he completed.

Reading the INPI survey reveals other signs of immaturity in the innovation system, observed Maria Beatriz Páscoa, from INPI. The ranking of institutions that Unicamp heads responds to only a third part of the total of requests for registration at the organ. The other two thirds are spread over thousands of individual persons. “The majority of the requests come from isolated inventors, who could be linked into institutions”, says the articulation director from INPI. Whilst the institutions manage to register more than half of their requests, among the individuals this number is much lower, due to a series of factors that run from the difficulties of writing out the request to the inadequacy of the patent content. INPI aims to democratize this type of information by offering courses in order to qualify administrators – there were 23 only during the year 2004. “The goal is to show that the final objective is not to obtain a patent, but to guarantee a market. Not always does the single inventor manage to see this and fights to obtain the patent of an innovation that will not have any commercial application”, says Maria Beatriz.

Even innovating companies are less accustomed to looking for patents than their international competitors. According to the director from INPI, Embraer, one of the most innovative Brazilian companies, has no registered patents in the United States. But its competitor, the Canadian Bombardier, has more than 700. There is, it is true, some encouraging data. Among the institutions’ patents deposited, half of them are linked to inventions and the other half to improvements of models. The relationship shows that the institutions devoted to innovation are taking their work seriously. Maria Beatriz believes that, with the mechanisms forecast in the new Innovation Law, the picture could suffer changes in future surveys. “The context is to give incentive to innovation within companies. What’s lacking is to verify if this will be sufficient to alter this environment in a substantial manner”, she says.