Actively Promoting Intellectual Property Trading
HK PolyU’s “Hand of Hope” Gains International Recognition
While Intellectual Property (IP) Trade has gained more concern from the market, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University was one of the first institutions in the territory to seize on this idea and make it part of its physical infrastructure.
More than 10 years ago, PolyU set up an independent department with the mandate of bringing the research of its various departments for industries’ use via IP trade. In tandem with this goal was the idea of aiding small and medium-sized enterprises in the acquisition of patented technology and thereby raise their operations to the next level, expand their business and increase their competitiveness.
The Associate Director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship (Technology Transfer and Commercialisation) of PolyU, Edmund Lam said, IP trade does not only involve one buyer and one seller – it requires the support of many intermediaries, including professional consultants, appraisers, financial services providers, IP lawyers, mediators and arbitrators, etc.
"The university has developed many IPs and we are continually working to transfer those technologies,” he said. “An IP trading center can help bring new technology to business and industry and following that bring the benefits of it to wider public,” he said. “For this reason the university set up an independent department, with the aim of fulfilling this intermediary role,” he added.
The university has set up a notification system, such that whenever a professor has a new invention or a new patent, the related departments will immediately be notified.
“After receiving researches from professors, we further analyse the potential of the project and its marketability. Next, we contact potential buyers to meet with them, to put out a press release and hold public forums on a regular basis, scouting for cooperation from industry players. One recent example of the Institute’s success was the development and IP trade of the “Hand of Hope”, which has won the highest award, the Gold Award (Grand Prix Du Salon International Des Invention De Genève) at the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva,” said Lam.
When a university professor carries out work on a technological innovation, he hopes that his technology can be widely used by the society, said Dr. Raymond Tong Kai-yu, Associate Professor of the Interdisciplinary Division of Biomedical Engineering (BME) in the College of Engineering at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. For this reason Tong said he makes use of IP trade to bring the technology to the market.
“I applied for a HK$4 million grant from the government’s Innovation fund and researched and developed the prototype for the ‘Hand of Hope’ for about two years,” Tong said. “I designed this robotic hand for stroke victims, to be used with their physical therapy,” he said.
“Although the patient’s own EMG signals, signaling the intention to move, are often weak, they are picked up by the ‘Hand’ and this will facilitate muscle re-education by both amplifying and rewarding a patient with the desired motion in concert with his or her own muscle activation, and thereby assist in rehabilitation,” said Tong. Patents on the technology have been registered in Hong Kong, mainland China and the European Union (EU), he added.
It was necessary to prepare the application for the patent in the early stages of developing the ‘Hand of Hope’, said Tong, who is also teaching the subject of patenting at the university. Europe, the U.S. and mainland China have free information archives, so it is easy to obtain information about existing patents and make certain that the technology one was developing would not infringe on existing patents, he said. “We also paid attention to the thesis from around the world and watched for release of information on new technology in the market, in particular anything that would help an innovator in applying for their own patents,” said Zhuang Haolin of PolyU’s Institute for Entrepreneurship.
So far quite a few stroke victims have undergone rehabilitation with the ‘Hand of Hope’, re-educating the brain on how to control the hand, and the results indicate that better progress in rehabilitation is being made compared with conventional methods of physical therapy. He said, many stroke victims have recovered partial hand movement, which is the best result they hope to see from their research and IP trade.
The development and sales rights to the ‘Hand of Hope’ were acquired by Michael Tsui, chief executive officer of Rehab-Robotics Co Ltd. Tsui himself is a professional therapist and whenever he sees a new medical product on the market or a new treatment procedure come out, he sees a new business opportunity. “For some rehabilitation products, we can acquire them using IP trade which will better suit the market’s needs,” said Tsui, adding “then there is no need to import it from abroad.”
He mentioned a few years ago when Global Positioning System (GPS) became increasingly popular, he had thought of using the technology to develop a tracking system to reduce the chance of the aged suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia from getting lost. Unfortunately he did not put that plan into action, and within about six months there was similar product on the market.
So this time when Tsui saw this new invention, the ‘Hand of Hope’ developed by Professor Tong, he set up a new company to work together with PolyU to bring the ‘Hand of Hope’ to the market. Last year this start-up company of Tsui’s became a member of the Incubation Programme of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks and the results have been beyond their expectations.
“The Company has always been acting as an agent for medical equipment suppliers, and usually doing something by means of another agent, a relatively passive position as regards designing products,” Tsui said. “But with IP trading and the collaboration developed from that, we are now having more autonomy,” he said.
His company will re-design the exterior and the materials used and may even develop games software for the Hand so that it can be used in exercise programmes and raise the enjoyment level in the physical therapy. As of now Kowloon Hospital and Wong Tai Sin Hospital have purchased the Hand and there are several other government hospitals that have expressed interest in purchasing it, said Tsui. Recently, the company registered the patented product in the European Union, and it seems that the day that the Hand of Hope will be exported to European markets is not that far off, he added.
As regards the business aspects of developing these products, it is more cost-effective to get new technologies through IP trading.
At the same time, Tsui has been a product representative for many years and has developed a market network through which to promote the product. He only needs to bring the finished product back to his territory and it can be reviewed and on the market very quickly. “If we ourselves try to do the R&D, we would need ten years or more and still might not achieve this level of technology,” Tsui said. “Now we are using limited resources and a reasonable amount of time and we have created a new business for the company and at the same time raised the company’s profile.”
Looking at the future, he says most of the hospitals are far away from residential areas and traffic doesn’t help patients to conveniently access the “Hand of Hope”. Currently the idea is lowering costs so that the product can be available for domestic use, or at least be rented in an affordable way, benefiting more people.
As for future plans, Tsui disclosed some new ideas to make the product more widely available to patients. Most hospitals are far from where people live and transportation is not that convenient, he said. In addition, the patients that will use the Hand of Hope all have difficulty getting around. Tsui is thus working on how to lower the sales price of the product, so that it can be used at home, or create an affordable rental system so that more people could benefit.
Hong Kong is a major international city and has all the supporting facilities that an IP trading centre needs, including a comprehensive and robust legal system, rapid communications capabilities, and a huge international network, said Edmund Lam of the Polytechnic’s Institute of Entrepreneurship. Hong Kong is also the gateway to China, making it a good platform for the transfer of technology by both domestic and overseas traders. "In addition, Hong Kong's universities have different innovative skills and technologies, enterprises can approach the universities on their own for the technology that they need and thereby create mutual beneficial relationships," Lam said.
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