Monday, May 16, 2011

It really isn't the IP policy!

I'm going to have to get back to the Mike Lazaridis speech next time ... today's London Free Press had a big story on me -- very generous in its comments, which I appreciate (I'd provide a link but it's not online). There was one part, though, that has me attributing Waterloo's startup success to the university's IP policy -- which is not only something I don't believe, but something I've been trying to convince people for years is not the case (or, to the degree that it had an effect, is much less direct than the usual stories would have you believe). That was one of the key points I was trying to make in my last post.

The Free Press story correctly has me pointing out that very few of the startups we saw in Waterloo were built around the transfer of IP. In fact, I'd have a difficult time coming up with many startups in Waterloo that were based around technology that would have been institutionally-owned if the underlying research had been performed at a university with a different IP policy. That's the message I've been trying to get across for years because it's contrary to what a lot of people believe.

Unfortunately, at the same time, the story has me saying the policy was the "springboard" for the area's success, and that's giving it far more credit than I do. I think the IP policy was useful as one piece in UW's creation of an environment that was entrepreneur-friendly (along with co-op work terms, the attention paid to spinoffs, and other policies and practices that go back decades). But when it comes to actual startup creation or furthering the commercialization of IP, I've never thought that it had the effect that is often attributed to the policy in Waterloo. I don't consider it to be a significant direct contributor to startup creation and never have.

So skip over that part of the story. Maybe the part about me being a "very, very smart man" too. (Thanks Iain.)