Lockheed Martin’s India Innovation Program Offers Key IP, Licensing Insights

3/22/12

Last Friday marked the end of the five day long DST-Lockheed Martin India Innovation Growth Program workshop (LMIIGP) that took place in Goa, India, and brought together a group of fifty promising entrepreneurs and inventors. Organized by the Indian Department of Science and Technology, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), The Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum, and The University of Texas At Austin’s IC2 Institute, the forum focused on technology commercialization strategies.

Although most of the lecturers were part of Technology Innovation Group, an organization that advises technology based companies to create public and private partnerships that are critical for economic growth, the workshop was predominantly geared towards preparing the participants for the Lockheed Martin India Innovation Growth Program Business Plan Competition taking place later this month. A majority of the topics covered pertained to the basics of entrepreneurship and business plan writing. But the LMIIGP also addressed key technical and legal issues, and examined the intricacies of strategic partnerships. Participants also benefited from a unique, free service that granted them access to what could have been costly market research and business development objectives.

The more concrete issues relevant to the commercialization of our technologies were addressed towards the end of the five-day program. Not only did these lectures answer countless questions, but they also highlighted a noteworthy lesson on the importance of sorting out essential legal issues early on in a startup’s life. With legal fees being too expensive for most startups to afford, many of the companies present elected to skimp on them in favor of legal counsel from friends and families who run their own businesses, or seek advice from more affordable, yet less competent attorneys. The result was an amalgam of erroneous concepts that Sujit Thakur, Partner at Zeus IP, a boutique law firm that specializes in intellectual property law in India, carefully and patiently elucidated during a talk on IP. Thakur’s talk, initially slotted for one hour, extended to a two-and-a-half-hour-long animated question and answer session.

It became apparent to many of the participants that attorney fees should account for a larger part of the budget than had been allocated at the outset. Norman Kaderlan, founder and president of Technology Innovation Group, argued that any investor would want full disclosure regarding the current standing of a startup, because the high risk of exposure due to negligence could be a major deterrent. As a result of inaccurate legal advice, one of the entrepreneurs present discovered that he was in a precarious situation, whereby he was vulnerable to unintentionally relinquishing the rights to filing his patent and possibly losing proprietorship of his invention. Having such an open exchange with various startups and innovators, each at different stages of development, was particularly beneficial because it provided information pertinent to real-life situations.

Speakers also covered the topic of strategic partnerships, a topic that I had seldom seen being addressed in my entrepreneurship classes despite its relevance to entrepreneurs. One of the main purposes of the LMIIGP is to expose its contestants to larger corporations and as such help them dig into the dynamics of such relationships. As it turns out, most of the participants were wary of these collaborations due to horror stories heard about big conglomerates acquiring startups and expelling the founders, or purchasing the exclusive rights to a product under false pretenses and actually keeping it off of the market, thereby eliminating the competition.

Although those incidents are not unheard of, James Dukowitz, a principal with Technology Innovation Group, argued that they are not the norm, and that technology transfer agreements are a lot more prevalent amongst startups than was traditionally thought. In addition, these agreements can be just as beneficial to an entrepreneur, if not more so, as corporations can take part in multiple rounds of funding and eventually become the entities that acquire the startup. The entrepreneurs need not waste time seeking funding from various investors. Entrepreneurs can also get flexible partnership arrangements if the licensing agreement is properly drafted so as to include provisions such as non-performance clauses, which hold the partner accountable to a certain performance level. In addition to clarifying the intricacies of strategic partnerships and licensing agreements, the LMIIGP offers participants the opportunity to develop a better understanding of their market..

In an effort to make the top 50 participants more appealing to potential strategic partnerships and end consumers, the LMIIGP hires and pays for qualified consultants and market experts pertinent to a startup’s field, to do market research and identify potential customers. That research is published in a report called Quicklook.

Waybeo Technology Solution, a company that provides software for businesses to anticipate questions consumers will have when browsing their websites, took part in Quicklook and determined that hotels would benefit greatly from its software. Going one step further, hotels that were interviewed for the report displayed a strong interest in Waybeo’s software, thereby connecting the company to potential customers. I’ve previously performed my own market research for my startup Roof for Two, by personally approaching motorcycle dealerships in order to gauge their interest. Having witnessed the value this type of market validation holds in the eyes of potential investors, I believe Quicklook was an indispensable asset for the participants to capitalize on.

It was a pricy ticket at almost $800, but the Lockheed Martin India Innovation Growth Program is a major stepping-stone in India’s rapidly emerging entrepreneurship sector. The presence of so many highly qualified professionals offering original ideas promises great potential for India’s future contribution to the technology sector.

Maxime Pinto is co-founder and chief marketing officer at Roof For Two, a Boston-based startup focused on the Indian market. Follow @

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