Technology Transfer and software sustainability

Posted by s.hettrick on 17 August 2011 - 3:18pm

LightsOverEurope.jpgThanks to Aleksandra Pawlik, a PhD student from the Open University, for this blog post on the role of Technology Transfer Offices in sustaining software. (If you're interested in the commercialisation of scientific software, take a look at her first blog post).

Not so long ago, the institute's website discussed the ACCESS ICT initiative, which aims to help researchers get funding for the commercialisation of their research. Programs such as ACCESS ICT are, however, only available for scientists who meet particular criteria. If you don’t fit the bill, but think that your software could make it in the commercial world, you
should be able to get support from the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) at your university.

The main role of TTOs is to advise and assist in turning your prototype into a product. Usually, researchers only contact a TTO once their software prototype is ready. It would be better if TTOs were to engage with researchers earlier, when they had only just begun planning their software. Many argue that blue skies research is the big thing of academic and scientific projects, and that this research should not be driven solely by the amount of money it can generate. Nevertheless, in the context of scientific software development, TTOs can help in propagating the best practices for creating flexible and extendible scientific software prototypes.

The experience TTOs have in commercialising prototypes can be useful in identifying flaws in scientific software, and the ways in which these flaws could be addressed. Understanding the causes of these pitfalls, at an early stage of development, can help scientists to deliver robust and maintainable software. Engaging with the scientific community validates the work of TTOs, which is especially important in the current economic climate when universities are looking to cut overheads. There will always be gaps to fill and improvements to make before academic software can enter the demanding commercial market, and TTOs can provide extremely useful support for scientists who aim to commercialise their software.