Here’s a question that worries every technology transfer department and any innovative company that partners with a large multinational company – what if they mess it up or even try to kill it?
The Wall Street Journal reports on a High Court action tomorrow where Ploughshare Innovations, who licence the intellectual property for the Ministry of Defence’s Porton Down Laboratory, and its financial partner, private equity firm Porton Capital, are claiming up to £41m from 3M for failing to ‘actively and diligently’ market their MRSA test. The gist of the case is that Ploughshare think the technology was wonderful and should have made them millions while 3M claim that the technology wasn’t good enough and both sides have been fighting it out this year via press releases. Ploughshare also claim that “the reason 3M sabotaged the trial was because it was developing a more expensive molecular test to detect MRSA internally called the Simplexa and wanted it to be the first to reach the market.”
The case has been rumbling on since 2008, but it does have worrying implications for anyone involved in commercialising technologies. Normally this is done on a best effort basis, despite the attempts of licensing departments to tie companies down to a detailed schedule of sales and royalty payments, as getting a technology to market is not a linear process. The technology might be overtaken by other technologies, may face regulatory hurdles, may prove too expensive or fail to be commercially viable at any stage. In any case, in the current climate it is hard enough to predict the next few months, let alone sales figures for the next ten years.
Ploughshare must either be so hopping mad that they will go to any lengths for retribution or think they have a very good case which proves that the technology was deliberately killed. Either way the outcome will be interesting for anyone involved in innovation, and could open the floodgates for a legion of disgruntled inventors to sue their commercial partners.