Re-purposing technology – insights for policy

The Financial Times has a great story on how to utilize old patents in new products – New profit from old patents. The heart of the story is about utilizing the core HP thermal printing technology for an alternative to the dreaded needle for drug delivery (using a transdermal skin patch). HP is licensing the technology to a small Irish company, Crospon.
The story is also about the importance role government can play in the process:

It was Enterprise Ireland, an Irish government agency charged with fostering innovation and technology links between multinationals and indigenous Irish companies, that brought the two together.

This type of matchmaking (usually thought of as part of a technology transfer function) is an important role that government agencies – or quasi-government, public/private partnerships — play in technology-based economic development. It is not just a matter of standing back and let the market work, as some like to claim. It is a matter of activity fostering a market in technology exchanges.
There was another part of the story that caught my eye, however:

At HP Labs, the company’s central research facility, it has an active programme to identify new uses for these old technologies. HP does not disclose how much it makes in annual royalties and fees from such arrangements, but it is believed to be about $500m(£272m).

Say what? HP does not have to disclose its royalty income? That can’t be completely right. Somewhere that $500 million has to show up on the books. The fact that it can’t be easily traced back to technology licensing (at least apparently by the FT) is an accounting and disclosure problem. And it is a problem that needs to be fixed.

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