Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Contracts: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

What does RM need to know before entering into negotiations with a potential sponsor?

RM has to plan and prepare a solid agenda based on the requirements of the research at hand to establish whether a contract is indeed practical or possible. Contingency, concessions equitable distribution and perhaps restrictions and constraints such as those present in Guide to Contract Negotiation & Preparation of Contracts at ANU will need to be well planned for in advance and written in stone and otherwise memorized to make sure no boundaries are exceeded.

It appears fairly standard that University IP should never be surrendered in Australia. At the same time this appears as a standard not applied to many generic drug manufacturers in the sale of their products to poorer nations where there have been many cases of international legislation which require corporations provision their IP to assist in making medicine more affordable for those who can least afford it to the entire sector. Unrestricted licensing to the funding partner might also be difficult to regulate in many foreign markets if the sponsor is an international corporation they might perhaps be making billions off the university licensed IP abroad while the university itself sees no further profits without a bold contingency on future earnings in place.

At the same time universities may see increasing ethical and legal challenge in when or if their IP rules may be restricting global development. So far I have not read of any one challenging university IP rules but heterodox economist Chang Ha-Choon takes on the entire neo-liberal market approach in Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective. (2002)

Minimizing University exposure to unrecoverable liabilities also appears to be an important consideration as ANU relates that larger multi-party negotiations will increase the risk of unforeseeable liabilities claims or challenges. Yet, is there not some form of research risk insurance or force majeure clause for small ventures provided by the Australian Government similar to export nonpayment insurance which reduces exposure to small businesses with 90% risk coverage? It appears to work for the exporters wouldn't it work to encourage more small multiparty research consortia?

It seems universities seek to ensure the research project can actually be completed in the time and with the assets required in the contract. This would imply that failure to do so will extract late delivery and penalty as potentially with export shipments.

While these terms appear fixed positions most businesses might see them as potentially limiting shared interests and the RM would need to include a central university legal team to review the final document, screen all agreed terms, vet departmental endorsements, investigate commercial forecasts, ensure term sheets are in agreement with contract terms, perform final sign off on any boiler plate contract, present final draft to research director, pass to research department chair, witness signing and provide copies by and to all principals, provision signed copy to Chancellery for final signature, forward copies of the contract to department, Chancellery and legal team and and assign to filing cabinet for as long as a couple of decades or university dictates decree. No bureaucracy there?

As product lifecycles are increasingly short in most competitive commercial sectors any delay could reduce the possible profits of the research itself. While the university legal team may provide final content review and lead negotiator the more the involved RM can confirm through understanding and moderating the negotiation process the easier it may be.

The RM could enroll in some form of course work to gain greater competency in the legal aspects of sponsored research management contracts. Additionally the RM could employ tactical training in real negotiations, arbitration and conflict management.

Experience is often not the only or best solution to improving skills in contract negotiation. In fact, as my Notre Dame Certificate taught me in 2007 crucial human weaknesses such as cognitive biases, emotions and irrationality, partisan assumptions,and selective information filtering all often reinforce zero sum positions rather than provide opportunities for shared interests. Good RMs seek the creation of value or shared gains through collaboration, but with lack of negotiation training might be encouraged to practice judgmental overconfidence in one's own skill set only reinforcing innate human aversions to loss or risk as well as the perpetuation of reactive devaluation. No manager really wants to hear they lack negotiation skills or the ability to frame good questions to gather the best information possible contributing to their decisions. But having lived outside the western world for more than a decade I often fear it's aversion to risk is it's biggest disadvantage. This would apply to the interests of collaborative research rather than isolated enclaves in terms of positions on multiparty contracts.

What should RM be aware of concerning existing funding contracts when planning for new funding cycles and applications?

As an apocryphal, in the worst case scenario conflicts of interest or IP sharing would be found post contract signing as a class mate indicated and this would imply a lack of due diligence in which case in common law it would be potentially challenging for the university to recoup any losses of IP protection, patent or copyright. Conflicts between current and future contracts need to be anticipated and I am certain the best RMs out there are as popular for their smooth negotiation skills as they are for their competent juggling of BATNAS (best alternative to negotiated agreement) and their knowledge of university IP reservation points, restrictions and constraints. An RM's past performance in managing contracts will implicate future responsibilities.

Research Collaboration: Orientation to the Future

Research Collaboration: Orientation to the Future

Any experiences you may have had in the past good or bad with collaborations? Would you manage things differently now?

The impetus for my taking on these studies was an APEC Asian Research Project Proposal that came my way via linkedin and a former Wollongong resident now manager of a Boutique NGO recruitment business in Bonn, Germany. He had found my listing which includes training in operations and research management already through my studies at UOW and Concordia/FITT (Forum for International Trade Training Canada) which would have been applicable to the TOR requirements of a Pan Asian analysis of operational food security provisions.

Following the proposal rejection after application and approval process which took a few months I realized the best way to capitalize on such a marvellous missed opportunity was to acquire more training in the role of an RM to add curbside appeal to my already excellent future potential usefulness to similar organisations who might be found fishing around Korea in future. As Paige recommended at the beginning of the course by trying to imagine the role of RM as an impending future reality ~ something I wouldn't mind juggling parallel to my teaching position ~ I look forward to realization of such a goal by positioning myself here in Korea as perhaps one of the rare few who might then hold such qualifications without having had to leave here or sacrifice gainful employment to achieve in the meantime.

Discuss any issues that may occur when running a research project funded by both an industry collaborator and a seperate unrelated grant.

Many of you have mentioned here the potential pitfalls of a multi-sponsored research project including the competitive interests of business versus researcher goals namely the possible divide between commercially viable and IP protected or academically publishable and socially beneficial knowledge sharing results and the conflicting milestones which might prevent benefits for both without sacrificing one facet or goal of joint venture research over the other. The other perspective is that you might end up running two seperate projects which might see conflicts in terms of informational cross-over which might tend to encourage some forms of moral hazard.

To address Paige's issues regarding moving from informal to formal terms of cooperation and collaboration one might easily consider the generally accepted practice of recommended export practices and procdures. Appreciate any comments to see whether these procedural issues have any actual cross-over.

1. Where one could compare a university to a domestic economy or at least at times smaller cities those rare instances of external or export sales/short-term contract collaborations will provide a company or research department with a record of transactions and/or potential industry partners when seeking larger scale collaborations in future. It would seem reasonable to expect collaborators to proceed on a mutual interests level of progressive gains over time.

2. To pursue foreign market oriented sales or further industry research collaborations many companies/universities often need to employ new middle management team techniques and more warm bodies to ensure the goals of future research collaboration growth are being met at the level of which core decision makers may have overall control. Many researchers would need to delegate and designate an RM other than the lead researcher out of a lack of extra time above and beyond their regular duties to solicit or respond to unsolicited enquiries, stack a date book of future projects well in advance of milestones for larger scale future exports or research collaborations.

3. Focusing on a key market for future export or research collaboration itself requires significant market research itself in terms of research competitors and dynamic global environments as others have pointed out. Decision makers might not need to rely exclusively on subject matter experts or even core research personnel if they possess the resources to hire consultants in country or to canvass the corporate world to provide new contacts and possible corporate research funding leads then they are recommended to do so.

4. Possibly the best university to corporate research collaborations rely heavily on key contact relationships which may have evolved personally over lifetimes of friendship, professional association, university alumni groups, etc. Regardless of the actual contractual details if there are not strong extra-curricular linkages for many I'm sure the research scale will remain minimal in its synergies. While many of our paper readings this week suggested otherwise, face to face contact is still integral if not with regular site visits then through localized up and downstream research consortia which appear not dissimilar to supplier-based JIT systems in terms of factory and industrial site collocations all over Asia. The same appears to be happening in Australia with the increased incidence of incubator and innovation parks adjacent to university sites. This cannot be a coincidence and makes for cozy bedfellows I'm sure.

5. While the financing and budgets of the research itself need to be closely monitored no small scale collaboration will evolve into a large and long term association or joint venture until real profits are being generated. No increasing scale of budgets will be supported without direct industry or consumer adoption or utilisation of the results of the research. This is the corporate monkey mantra: See no results, Hear no results, Have no more bananas. While I realize there are many academics who would be quite satisified to make repeated progress without commercial results aside from possible CSR or dog and pony shows (as BP's recent scandal fueled Gulf of Mexico gaff indicates) even essential corporate research is often overlooked or under-performed.

In another word: Toyota.

6. It is the RM's responsibility to look beyond the actual terms of agreement to forsee future problems before they are encountered and some understanding of corporate terms of agreement such as binding versus non-binding letters of intent and possible tutelage in the agreements on general terms and conditions terminology as well as consultation with a university lawyer would probably be of benefit to any future RM on campus.

These would be some of the steps in accessing a foreign export market. Is there not some alignment with RM collaboration needs?

Proposals, Grants and Funding Cycles

Proposals, Grants and Funding Cycles

1. How do research proposals for established companies vs. university grants differ?

I would think as many of our resources this week indicate that corporate research is better funded, structured and managed to lead to profit-based results which will increase the value of product or service and shareholder interests. In terms of Brian Martin's Assessment Orientation Table 1 corporate funding appears to rely more heavily upon administrative and performance-based funding decisions. In contrast university resources appear to be more publicly funded and thus more accountable to administrative requirements in terms of disbursements with a greater focus on peer review and equal allocation. Perhaps fewer information sharing limitations might exist which encourage more open data sharing? Does the public and university research sphere provide the proving ground for more confidential corporate research?

Our global innovation industry profile indicates the software & internet, health, computing & electronics, technology, aerospace & defense and automotive research fields are the largest and most competitive in terms of sales ratios while probably also the most highly commercialized and corporately funded. "Everything else" from humanities to creative industries or community-based projects would more highly contend with university-based research grant allocations. Independent self-funding researchers might enjoy this short presentation by Elizabeth Gilbert on the nature of creativity among non-sciences based researchers.

2. Why is it important to be aware of grant cycles?

The research proposal itself would need to be iteratively reviewed and updated to ensure that the grant funding cycles do not end prior to completion of research. If various grants are being cobbled together to complete a longer term of research than a few months at a time there would need to be many consecutive milestones or sets of results to achieve some level of entrenchment to carry over from one stage of research to another. It appears many grants are short-term in orientation and so without consecutive successful applications to provide for various sequential results based elaborations on previous research conclusions it would be at times impossible to meet research goals and time constraints in funding sources.