Meet the Flintbox: A Canadian IP resource

No matter how innovative the idea, it can be difficult to drum up the partner to commercialize it, but intellectual property matchmaking system Flintbox is working with an industry association to bring ideas and money together.

The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) recently announced it is offering free Flintbox accounts for a year to all its members.

“Canada is sorely lacking in the ability to commercialize well,” CATA vice-president Barry Gander said. “Now, with CATA, Flintbox can plug into CATA’s membership.”

This is in line with Vancouver-based Flintbox’s current strategy of teaming up with industry associations to bring more interested parties into the fold. Flintbox has been luring them in with customized experiences.

According to Flintbox president Steve Smith, the company has been diversifying its offerings by designing for trade associations—such as Precarn—portals that allow their members to manage their memberships, profiles and contact groups. The portal then feeds into the Flintbox database, which would be branded with the association’s look-and-feel.

The database now has over 4,000 profiles, split evenly between research institutions (including universities, colleges, agencies, federal government labs and hospitals) and companies on the prowl for innovative ideas; the revenue model is based on membership and profile fees.

It all started in the early nineties when Smith was working at the University of British Columbia as the liaison between the commercial world and the research world. With the goals of getting products to market quicker, streamlining licensing and better enabling the knowledge transfer between companies and research entities, he designed the online system that would eventually become Flintbox.

Other technology transfer offices began asking to use it, especially after an early success with the BC Cancer Agency during the SARS scare when they were able to more easily license the software that helped isolate the virus.

The product helped facilitate over 1,500 licenses, which was in line with where Smith wanted to take the project.

“The challenge with technology commercialization people is that they want to make as much economically for their university as possible, not for society at large,” Smith said. “It’s not necessarily evil—it’s just their specific mandate.”

Some CANARIE funding enabled Smith to scale the project outward into a national network with dozens of research institutions, and, eventually, into an online system that also included companies and what they were looking for. This taps into the trend of how many companies aren’t doing their research and development in-house. “So they’re looking to license from other places,” according to Smith.

Flintbox’s current 2.0 incarnation as, said Smith, a “intellectual property exchange and social network tool for innovation” has been in place for almost a year, and the company continues to evolve. In addition to its portals work and partnerships with trade associations, Flintbox has another couple of projects on the go.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade recently approached Smith about collaborating with Flintbox in a pilot with 100 trade offices all over the world. Schedule to roll out in the second quarter, the project would plug the consulates into the database and possibly facilitate collaboration with foreign companies. Flintbox also will offer a type of outsourcing service—for companies that don’t want to pore over the database, Flintbox will find the right fit and make up the service agreements for them.

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