Interview : Simon W.L. Law, Associate Director of the Technology Transfer Center at HKUST [fr]
Technology transfer is part of Hong Kong universities DNA. Local universities are among the best in Asia, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), for instance, has been ranked the 5th in Asia in QS Ranking 2014. Dr Simon W.L. Law, Associate Director of the Technology Transfer Center is going to present us the management of technology transfer in his university.
Simon W.L. Law, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Technology Transfer Center
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Interview conducted by : Mr. Maël LE BAIL
Q - Can you introduce the Technology Transfer Center?
A - The Technology Transfer Center (TTC) is a unit of Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (HKUST) which seeks to promote promising new technologies to enhance the competitiveness and development of local industry. HKUST has always recognized the importance of technology transfer, and the TTC was established almost immediately at the opening of the university in 1991.
Led by Dr. Xu Claudia, the TTC has currently 13 members experienced in technologies development, intellectual properties (IP) development and protection, industrial liaison and technology marketing and promotion. We strive to assist HKUST in IP development and management, as well as to facilitate industrial collaboration between HKUST and the industry, to the benefit of the local community and beyond. This is in line with the Hong Kong Government’s vision to enable “Knowledge Transfer” from universities to the society.
Q - What is the mission of the Technology Transfer Center?
A - It is HKUST’s mission to contribute to the economic and social development of Hong Kong and its region. The Technology Transfer Center (TTC) utilizes the outstanding research and development infrastructures and resources of HKUST and its international links to facilitate the application of advanced technology. The TTC is the knowledge transfer agent of the University, aiming to facilitate effective technology development and transfer to the benefit of society.
The TTC’s main objectives are:
- The interface with the industry to seek collaborations with industry:
We seek collaboration opportunities with industry in working with companies from around the world in synergistic areas based on HKUST’s expertise and companies’ interests. The TTC works closely with faculty members at HKUST and keeps abreast the latest research outputs at HKUST. We also work closely with the industry to understand their challenges and discuss opportunities of cooperation with HKUST in their research and development program.
The TTC has been hosting open innovation workshops for selected companies in which companies and faculty members can meet and discuss openly regarding the companies’ challenges, as well as HKUST’s expertise. We hope that through these discussions, HKUST may develop more collaboration opportunities with the industry and work on synergetic areas that provide a win-win position to both the companies and HKUST.
- Management and protection of HKUST’s intellectual property:
We monitor inventions and discoveries arising from HKUST’s research works. We work with faculty members at an early stage to assist them with the protection of their intellectual properties. The TTC hosts regular workshops and invites patent attorneys to explain basics of IP, as well as latest trend in the patent community, to the university community.
- Technology marketing and explore licensing opportunities:
The TTC also promotes HKUST’s research outputs very actively through various platforms. Technology information and latest research news at HKUST can be accessed through the TTC website (www.ttc.ust.hk), as well as the Open Research, Innovation and Collaboration Network (ORION) platform (www.orion.ttc.ust.hk). We also attend trade shows regularly to promote HKUST’s technology.
We believe that through our effort in technology dissemination and marketing, the industry community will be aware of the excellent R&D outputs from HKUST and increase the chance for applying these R&D results to the industry.
Q - How many partnerships/patents have been established since the creation of the Center?
A - HKUST’s faculty members have disclosed over 950 inventions to TTC over the years. Currently HKUST is managing an active portfolio of over 750 patents or patent applications, in a wide range of areas in science and engineering.
Q - Can you give some examples of successful technology transfer examples by HKUST?
- Huawei-HKUST Innovation Laboratory:
Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. (Huawei), a leader in providing advanced telecommunications networks, established the Huawei-HKUST Innovation Laboratory at HKUST in 2009. The joint laboratory aims to support HKUST’s pursuit in academic excellence in the area of wireless communications, to enhance industrial collaboration, and to provide training to leaders of the next generation. Funded by Huawei, this laboratory supports mid-to-short term as well as long-term research and development (R&D) projects in the area of wireless communications, networks and new areas in Engineering.
- GlaxoSmithKline R&D China-HKUST Neuroscience Lab:
The GlaxoSmithKline R&D China-HKUST Neuroscience Lab, established in 2009 with the support of GlaxoSmithKline R&D China, endeavors to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying the pathologies of neurodegenerative diseases, as well as to develop drug candidates for their treatment. Facilitated by the sophisticated research tools at the global pharmaceutical company and the innovative academic research at HKUST, this partnership is expected to boost drug development in Hong Kong.
- Revolutionary Waste Water Treatment Demonstration:
HKUST research team developed an innovative Sulphate Reduction Autotrophic Denitrification and Nitrification Integrated (SANI) process for wastewater treatment. Significant reduction in sludge production results in the SANI technology compares to traditional method, leading to an energy-efficient and low-carbon sewage treatment technology.
HKUST has been working with the Drainage Services Department (DSD) on this technology for an extended period of time and have demonstrated very promising result. In 2013, with the support of the Innovation and Technology Commission (ITC), DSD and other private parties, HKUST launched a large-scale trial of SANI at the Shatin Sewage Treatment Works. This represents the largest sponsorship for a single local environmental ITF project to date. Upon successful completion of the trial, the Drainage Services Department would consider applying the revolutionary technology in several sewage treatment works in the territory. Successful demonstration may also lead to the future adoption of the SANI technology in other parts of the world.
- Cooperation with Thales:
The French Company Thales signed a partnership with Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and launched an Innovation Hub in Hong Kong. Through these initiatives, Thales is to boost innovation in the field of security and transportation. The perimeter covered by the agreement is next generation information technology for aeronautics, space, defense and security of the region’s smart cities.
The collaboration agreement signed is covering the following aspects:
- Collaborative research on new technologies
- Researchers exchange and mutual visits
- Student internship
- Teaching activity exchange and common action plan to get funded research contracts from funding bodies.
Q - Which prospective does your center offer for French companies and French academic laboratories?
A - Hong Kong is the gateway for China, by establishing collaborations in Hong Kong, French laboratories and industries can access the Hong Kong and Chinese market more readily. At the same time, European companies are also familiar with the legal system in Hong Kong, and can be more comfortable with contracts established with Hong Kong universities or companies. Besides, the HK Government is very supportive with international cooperation by universities in Hong Kong. The Innovation and Technology Commission (ITC) has various programs to provide R&D funding support to companies working with universities in Hong Kong, and HKUST has been quite successful in the applications for these funding programs by the ITC.
Universities in Hong Kong are among the top universities in the world and 4 universities in Hong Kong are rank within the top 200 according to the latest QS World University Ranking. HKUST, despite only established in 1991, is ranked number 40, and among the best for World’s Top 50 universities under 50. We have been collaborating with industry from around the world and have a lot of experience in working with different companies. We encourage French companies and laboratories that share our vision of excellence to contact us and discuss collaboration opportunities with HKUST.
Q - What are Intellectual property regulation specificities in Hong Kong? What are the main differences with Mainland China?
Hong Kong Patent:
Filing a patent application in China does not automatically give you protection in Hong Kong. An application should be filed with the Patents Registry of the Hong Kong Intellectual Property Department (HKIPD). There are two types of patent in Hong Kong, namely standard patent and short-term patent. The grant of a standard patent is based on the registration of a patent granted by one of three patent offices, called ’designated patent offices’, namely State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) of China, the European Patent Office in respect of a patent designating the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom Patent Office.
There are two stages for applying a standard patent.
- First stage, a request should be filed within 6 months after the patent application filed with the designated patent office is published.
- Second stage, a request should be filed within 6 months after the designated patent is granted. The term for a standard patent is 20 years from the filing date of the designated patent.
The grant of a short-term patent is based on a search report from an international searching authority or one of three designated patent offices. The short-term patent is renewable after four years from filing, for a maximum term of eight years.
A Chinese patent could be obtained via filing an application with State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) of China. As a member state of Patent Cooperation Treaty, it is possible to designate China in an international patent application and file a Chinese application via the PCT route. There are three types of patent in China, namely invention patent, utility model patent and design patent. Patent application for invention is subject to substantive examination, which is a novelty, inventive step and industrial applicability. On the other hand, utility model application only undergoes a formal examination. The term for invention patent in China is 20 years from the filing date and for utility model patent is 10 years from the filing date.
There has been on-going discussion regarding full patent examination process in Hong Kong, but no formal decision has been taken up to date. We are with the view that proceeding towards a Hong Kong patent examination system is definitely a positive direction towards intellectual properties protection in Hong Kong, and will enhance the IP community in Hong Kong. And we look forward to further development in the area.