Why is there a technology transfer office inside Idiap?

Technology transfer is much more than an office dedicated to industrial relations. The TTO is one of the many assets of Idiap. Interview with Joël Dumoulin, a man wearing multiple hats.

With 120 employees, many national and international scientific projects, the development of the Institute is impressive. Behind this scientific success there is a less known gem: the technology transfer office (TTO). The ability to find research opportunities and solve industry problems is one of Idiap's drivers of growth. Managing tech transfer tasks, Joël Dumoulin explains his role.

How are contacts with companies going, do you need to solicit them?

Due to its scientific fame, Idiap is fortunate not to have to solicit companies. Spontaneous requests are numerous and constant. For example, this last quarter, I answered not less than twenty contacts. Of course, not all of them lead to collaboration. I respond to requests by assessing their relevance and clarifying their needs. If the project is interesting from a research point of view and if the necessary resources are available, then it is possible to see what are the options for a collaboration. Some collaborations are conducted as a research mandate, others in the framework of funded projects, such as those proposed by Innosuisse (Swiss innovation agency) or by The Ark Foundation. During the setting-up phase of these projects, the industrial partners and Idiap often have different expectations and it is my role to ease the contact to find a solution on which all can agree.

What are companies getting in touch with Idiap looking for?

Machine learning is a recurring demand. Indeed, many companies realize the potential of the data they have at their fingertips and that they are not exploiting. Fortunately, the fields of application are diverse and varied and may concern the majority of our research groups and not just the Machine Learning Group. In addition to the constraints of this technique which requires a rigorous methodology to collect exploitable data, it is also sometimes necessary to explain the risks linked to the fact that scientific research cannot always guarantee the expected result.

Is the ownership of the results of collaborations with companies sometimes problematic?

My role is to discuss these issues in the first place. I am in charge of coordinating the process leading to the signing of a contract on intellectual property. To achieve this, consultation is crucial: with the researcher(s), the industrial partner and any other scientific partners. The support of our legal department is essential. Together, we ensure that the interests of Idiap are taken into account. The result of the projects sometimes makes it possible to file a patent – several have been filed at the US and European level – or to disclose an invention which then makes it possible to showcase our work using project incubators (development of pre-production prototypes) for example.

How is the role of technology transfer going to evolve within the Institute?

To support the continuous growth of Idiap, it is essential that tech transfer activities follow the same pace and can support the development of research. To achieve this, I have several goals: to enhance the value of Idiap's technology portfolio and to generate statistics to measure the evolution of technology transfer. Today, we lack information to improve our services. I also hope that communication with researchers and students will intensify so that more projects can be realised. Indeed, Idiap has a fantastic innovation potential, certainly under-exploited, and the creation of new spin-offs is one of the many challenges our Institute is facing. There are many possibilities. Do not hesitate to get in touch!

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