The Outlook for Technology Transfer in Singapore: Exploit Technologies and Philip LimBy
Last year I discussed the bold technology transfer and commercialization work of Exploit Technologies in Singapore under the leadership of Executive Director Boon Swan Foo. Their goal is an important one for the economy of Singapore. They are working with a booming portfolio of patents from the intense research being funded by the government of Singapore, seeking to license the patents and promote full commercialization. Mr. Boon has recently retired, turning the keys over to the new CEO, Mr. Philip Lim. I had the privilege of meeting Philip when I was at Singapore last year to speak at Innovation and Enterprise Week 2009, a remarkable event held at Biopolis. Philip Lim shares some of his thoughts in Part 1 and Part 2 of a blog post at Exploit Technologies. I’d like to share and comment upon a few of his thoughts from Part 2, as reported by Alfred Siew:
What are the biggest technologies to focus on?
With some 800 to 1,000 patents within A*Star to tap on, new Exploit Technologies CEO Philip Lim would be hard-pressed to name a few.
Still, gamely, he does point out a couple, during an interview.
One area is nano-imprinting lithography (NIL), a manufacturing process that is set to bring many benefits to making electronics that control, say, the liquid from an inkjet printer, or even for biomolecular sorting devices in the emerging bio-sciences equipment market.
Another area is ultrawideband (UWB) technology, a radio technology that promises to transfer audio and video over the air with speeds that are more common on wired connections.
With it, hi-fi equipment would one day do away with messy cables used to connect them together.
Taking over from long-time A*Star stalwart Boon Swan Foo, Philip says his main task is to group together complimentary expertise in the hottest fields, so as to come up with more products that can go to market fast.
He also intends to incentivise people to play as a team. By combining knowledge of market requirements, as well as the expertise that A*Star has, Exploit can help map out emerging and potentially viable areas which Singapore can focus on, he says.
For example, with UWB, the expertise of two A*Star institutes – the Institute for Infocomm Research (I²R) for its UWB design, and the Institute of Microelectronics (IME) for its expertise in manufacturing electronics – can easily be combined.
He notes: “One has the hardware (IME), the other has the software (I²R); put them together and you got UWB!”
“We want to be more outcome-focused and customer-focused in the way we do things,” he says, referring to a more streamlined approach to getting technologies out from the lab bench to retail shelves.
But he is not a number-cruncher, he explains. “We see ourselves as facilitators… KPIs, while tangible, have their limits.”
The dollar value of licenses made possible with Exploit, he notes, does not count the multiplier effect of the entire value chain of a technology. For example, technology behind a simple, low-cost keypad can be used in a much more expensive handphone, and has more value than its mere licensing fee.
“If we can generate ‘economic outcomes’, like sustainable innovation and more jobs for Singapore, then we’ve done our jobs,” says Philip, of Exploit.
He adds: “If we do more here, companies will like being based here. Instead of moving to cheaper manufacturing bases, they will want to stay in Singapore to keep in touch with the latest technologies.”
“For $1 in licensing, we may be creating thousands of dollars in economic value if jobs are kept here.”
Economic outcomes are what it’s all about. Philip wisely recognizes that successful tech transfer of government-funded R&D can result in long-term economic value for Singapore. They are focused on a long-term plan that will bring more companies and more jobs to Singapore to take advantage of the talent, the technology, and the culture of success that is being crafted.
One of the challenges for commercialization success in the Singaporean model will be continually crafting a portfolio of not just patents, but know-how and other intellectual assets that create synergy with the marketing story that fits the technology and business opportunities being developed. The marketing perspective needs to be brought into the technology plans and the IP strategy to create portfolios that encompass winning business models and can quickly give a partner a competitive advantage. The world beyond 2010 increasingly will rely on ecosystems of partnerships for success, united by the energy of clever business models in which marketing savvy and IP prowess go hand-in-hand. A*STAR and Exploit Technologies have the vision, and they are continuing to build the discipline and partnerships to make it happen. I look forward to watching this story unfold in the coming years.
Congratulations to Philip Lim and Exploit Technologies, and best wishes in your path forward to innovation success!