Gamification Helps Orphaned Intellectual Property Find A Home

Most university innovations don’t see the light of day, but this British startup has found a solution.  Through gamification, Marblar challenges scientists to build on each others’ ideas and awards badges (“marbles”), cash, and even equity if an idea can be implemented.

via Curt Hopkins @KurtHopkins,

From disrupting the peer-reviewed journal publishing tradition to utilizing a dispersed model to test code, the academy has been trying out new ways of innovating an overburdened scholarly apparatus using technology.

One of the latest areas to see this sort of experimentation is that of IP, or intellectual property.

Marblar, a startup launched by three British PhD students, is hoping to successfully crowdsource the resurrection of “dormant” IP, to flatten and widen the process of tech transfer. A major British venture capital firm, IP Group, has invested about $600,000 in the startup.

Tech transfer is the process of finding sustainable, real world use for academic research, including commercializing it. Most universities have departments, even entire research parks, devoted spinning off companies from the in-house research of their professors.

But scientists are busy beavers and “95-99% of university innovations just sit on a shelf not doing anything,” say the founders of Marblar, Daniel Perez (Oxford), Mehmet Fidanboylu (King’s College London), and Gabriel Mecklenburg (Imperial College London). “As outsiders to tech transfer we found it odd that the process was so closed and parochial. There are simply too few voices in the conversation, and as a result incredible science gets left behind.”

Given that only about five percent of research funds in the United States are made back through the commercialization of resultant research, it does seem like there is a market for this sort of product.

Their solution was to gamify the process of tech transfer.

With Marblar, scientists post their research as a “challenge.” The Marblar community (Marblars) “work toward finding novel ways of exploiting the inventor’s discovery.” Those in the community whose ideas are used are awarded the equivalent of badges (marbles) and some may receive cash and partial equity in any firm that takes flight due to their suggestions.

Marblar has run a beta in conjunction with Prof. Tom Brown of the University of Southampton and IP Group. Brown offered up DNA Click Ligation, “a piece of molecular biology tech” which can unite DNA strands chemically, without need for an enzyme, and issued a challenge for participants to find new ways of using it.

“We put it online and got some really neat responses so that the sponsors of the competition may well have two new start-up ideas around the tech,” said the team.

IP Group and Brown are in discussions with Luke Edelmann, the first place winner and Cambridge University student, about possibly funding a company based on his idea, which “involves solving a problem inherent to screen DNA drugs,” according to Mecklenburg, to be built on Brown’s work. The second-place winner, also a Cambridge student, is in similar discussions surrounding his use of Brown’s DNA Click Ligation to solve a problem in synthetic drug production.

Ideas from the community are riffed on, built upon, criticized and otherwise crowdsourced themselves, not unlike the discussion around a seminar course.

Marblar is not the first undertaking in the area of crowdsourcing IP nor of incentivizing it. Tobias Thornblad outlines some of the early efforts in the biosciences in the group blog, Intagitopia.

Whether the game mechanics of the project will be valuable or attractive enough to distinguish Marblar from its competitors remains to be seen. You could argue it feels a bit tacked on. If financial rewards to the community come to pass, that could provide real game mechanics by offering a reward everyone values. But the real innovation here may be in the focus on neglected IP, which could prove to be the scientific equivalent of repurposing brewers’ grain as cattle feed, turning something formerly considered garbage into something with distinct value.

“A lot of people realize that inert IP is a big problem,” Marblar CEO Dan Perez told Ars, “It’s just that no one has come up with a solution quite like ours and we asked ourselves why that is. As scientists, we really have a deep understanding of what our users (mainly other scientists) want. We really want to put an emphasis on building a community of people who enjoy being rewarded for their creativity and problem solving, and enjoy being around other creative people. We are designing the challenges so that ideas are openly posted and collaboration is rewarded. This is really going to use the crowd to its full potential.

“Of note, in our beta our hypothesis was that the crowd would “compete”. We were dead wrong on that one though: They were actually building upon each others’ entries and working together. Seems obvious, but was unexpected to us. But we’re going to facilitate that in our next launch”

Outfits like Marblar have the potential to grow the relationships between scientists, students, and lay scientists, as well as give those involved in the discussions a sense of personal investment in both the work. The scientists and students who are the majority of the Marblar community will have a social environment to show off their chops, regardless of where they’re located. For cooperating scientists, Marblar may provide a way to squeeze value out of the tailings pile of their research, those elements that would otherwise remain moribund, possibly indefinitely. Finally, and not incidentally, it offers investors another avenue for ideas, companies and experts.

“When it comes to brainstorming new ideas,” said Perez, “younger scientists from around the world can do it—they really have an edge. They just need to be welcomed into that conversation. Marblar’s gonna do just that.”

Party on, punkers.

Source Article


  1. This Week In Gamification: June 17-23 | EnGaming - June 23, 2012

    […] featured two platforms that use gamification to promote two very different types of idea-sharing.  Marblar leverages gamification to encourage academics to collaborate so that ideas can be developed for […]

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