Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Nothing ventured, nothing gained


Innovation is all around us, commercialization is a challenge: such a characterization could well be used to describe Hong Kong. As the SAR possesses such inventive companies as Rehab-Robotics, iMusicTech and Ximplar, there remain all too many innovations that ultimately become unfulfilled opportunities. 

Rehab-Robotics in May became the first Hong Kong company in the 40-year history of the International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva to be awarded with the Grand Prize for its Robotic Hand of Hope - a device for helping stroke sufferers regain hand movement. iMusicTech, in June, was named "Outstanding Incubator Client" in the Technology Category of the 2012 National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) Incubation Awards, thereby becoming the first company from the territory to be honored with this award. In the case of Ximplar, it won the Bronze Award and Audience Choice Award at the 2011 Wall Street Journal Asian Innovation Awards for developing the world's first firmware, which, embedded in a smartphone, offers the user a hearing test, then optimizes the phone's audio frequencies based on the results. 

The exceptional accomplishments of these companies, as well as many others, lend optimism to Hong Kong's prospects as an innovation hub. However, there remain a variety of obstacles to overcome if the territory is to reach its full potential. In the case of Rehab-Robotics, iMusicTech and Ximplar, all three developed their technologies at, or partnered with, local universities; all three received Hong Kong government support, and all are benefiting from Hong Kong Science Park's hard and soft infrastructure. While this represents one route toward commercialization, many more pathways could be created. 

Though Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTPC) provides a comprehensive range of incubation programs for start-ups, subsequent government funding assistance for those companies that graduate would be invaluable in supporting their long-term viability. Further expansion of the First@SciencePark program, where companies can test their products not only at Hong Kong Science Park, but also within the government portfolio, would also be an effective means of promoting R&D ahead of eventual commercialization. Another avenue where the government could provide assistance is by offering special intellectual property (IP) grants that encourage registration, particularly in instances where companies are unable to afford multiple patent applications. 

While the government is an essential partner in promoting technology transfer, IP listing and commercialization, the private sector and academia can certainly take on greater responsibilities. Private sector incubation remains an infrequent practice in Hong Kong, yet one that is much needed, particularly in nurturing small and medium-sized enterprises. Not necessarily involving corporate benevolence, private sector incubators or angel investors can subsequently take an equity stake in the incubatees as their businesses start to gain traction. 

In the case of the academic community, ownership of patents is certainly an issue that can affect the pace of commercialization. While universities can rightfully claim that many innovations emerge from research undertaken in their laboratories, in those instances where private funding is also involved, the resultant patents cannot justifiably be claimed solely by a single party. By adopting a pragmatic approach, all relevant interests can benefit, spurring greater applied research, closer cooperation between academia and industry and higher commercialization rates. 

With the goal of promoting commercialization and closer cooperation between industries and academia in mind, HKSTPC established an IP search engine in June 2010. Initially comprising 1,500 IPs, today the figure is in the vicinity of 2,800, representing the labors of six local universities, as well as ASTRI (Hong Kong Applied Science & Technology Research Institute Co Ltd). Through the concerted effort of all stakeholders, we look forward to adding even more IPs, and, more significantly, seeing Hong Kong expand its traditional role as an international financial hub and become a true innovation and technology center and knowledge based economy. 

(Source: China Daily)

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