August 15, 2010

Research on alternative forms of funding, some thoughts

With funding for research very tight (form governmental, foundational, and corporate sources) and my interest in alternative sources of funding, I decided to post some of my casual investigations into a new model for funding scientific inquiry and technological development.

Recently, I saw an interview with Nathan Myhrvold on Charlie Rose (a PBS show). Mr. Myhrvold, a former Microsoft employee, has created a company called Intellectual Ventures . Intellectual Ventures is an company that helps innovators file patents and extract monetary return from their investments in time and research. In the research that I have done, this type of arrangement has a lot of potential for academic pursuits. The goal is to translate ideas and (engineering) artifacts into a profitable enterprise. Overall, I like the mission of Intellectual Ventures. Yet patents are not the only means to extract profit from the landscape of ideas.

The patent system has at least three drawbacks to helping along modern innovation. Firstly, the initial cost of filing a patent is quite high. In University settings, this is mitigated somewhat, but still poses a problem for when multiple patents are sought. The costs add up, particularly if these patents ultimately bring in little money. Secondly, there is currently a backlog of applications at the patent office, which increases the time between initial submission and the awarding of the patent. Finally, patents are usually the result of research funded by one of the federal funding agencies. Therefore, extracting value from intellectual activity is
a drawn-out process that might benefit from the ability to extract value at the various intermediate steps.

One answer to some of these challenges might be found in project funding sites such as Kickstarter . Although Kickstarter is for activities with a more concrete endproduct than typical scientific research, it provides a means to raise small amounts of funds for initial and piecemeal advances.
I wrote a white paper earlier this year on establishing something similar to this before I started paying attention to Kickstarter (NOTE: my idea differs in that it directly supports the unique environment of scientific and other academic work). My future plans are to try and work with Kickstarter to develop small-scale projects that don't have concrete or "tangible" financial outcomes.

I will be posting more on this topic as I develop these ideas further.