Rembrandts in the Research Lab: Why Universities should Take a Lesson from Big Business to Increase Innovation

42 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2006  

Kristen Jakobsen Osenga

University of Richmond - School of Law

Date Written: November 10, 2006


At a basic level, the two most pervasive obstacles to university research (that is, foundational scientific or "pure" research) are lack of funding and lack of access. The lack of funding problem is fairly self-explanatory. The lack of access problem is a bit more complex and has been largely blamed on the increase in patenting of scientific building blocks and research tools. Some literature suggests that patenting and university research can peacefully co-exist; however, a greater bulk of the research and scholarship seems to maintain that this type of patenting is at odds with the culture of academia, is impractical and generally adverse to the university's best interests, and most importantly is a significant blockade to innovation. I disagree.

Perhaps the access problem does not lie in the patenting itself, but rather in how universities are obtaining and using, or not, their intellectual property rights. Although the Bayh-Dole Act is now over 25 years old, university patenting remains in its nascent stages. Universities are still trying to figure out whether to enter the patent game and, if so, how to do it. While some universities have established, smoothly-functioning technology transfer offices that are currently utilizing and exploiting their intellectual property assets, many other universities have yet to develop a coherent strategy to obtain and utilize their potential intellectual property and may not have even consulted or employed a qualified patent attorney. If universities instead actively and intelligently pursue and exploit their intellectual property rights, I argue that the problems of both lack of funding and lack of access could be curtailed.

Interestingly, this overly-cautious entry into the intellectual property arena is not unique to universities, having been experienced by big business decades ago. Some of the accompanying concerns are specific to academic and foundational research. However, as to the primary hesitancy, many sectors of big business were similarly unwilling or uninterested in jumping full force into patenting for many of the same reasons that universities express: lack of money, lack of knowledge, lack of infrastructure, and concern about upsetting the research & development culture. One popular text, directed toward business executives, Rembrandts in the Attic, provides a primer for developing an intellectual property strategy to maximize profits and promote innovation by providing the requisite knowledge and proposing an infrastructure for implementing such a strategy. I argue that universities can similarly overcome the barriers of lack of knowledge and lack of infrastructure by taking a cue from big business by developing an intellectual property strategy. Then, with this strategy in place, the university can also address the culture barrier as well as the overriding obstacles to research of lack of funding and lack of access.

In this Article, I provide the beginnings of a primer aimed specifically at universities to provide administrators, technology transfer offices, and researchers with the information necessary to understand the how and why of obtaining patents and suggestions for maximizing their usefulness. I adopt and apply much of the knowledge imparted by the Rembrandts text, taking the unique concerns of university patenting into account. I further propose a structure to facilitate the implementation of these strategies to maximize the exploitation of the university's patents. Specifically, an entity should be established to function as a database provider and, more importantly, an analyst of university patents and business trends, addressing the aforementioned barriers and lessening the obstacles of funding and access. In conclusion, I argue that if universities were to adopt a mindset more akin to big business when considering their intellectual property resources, greater innovation would result.

Suggested Citation

Osenga, Kristen Jakobsen, Rembrandts in the Research Lab: Why Universities should Take a Lesson from Big Business to Increase Innovation (November 10, 2006). Available at SSRN: or

Kristen Osenga (Contact Author)

University of Richmond - School of Law ( email )

28 Westhampton Way
Richmond, VA 23173
United States
804-289-8112 (Phone)

Paper statistics

Abstract Views