by Christian Stevenson, Ph.D.
Innovation Program Manager, InnoCentive
As an organic chemist and Innovation Program Manager at InnoCentive, one of my favorite things to do is to work with our dynamic Solver community to help them solve our Seekers’ pressing problems. I recently had an opportunity to do that in a very direct way when we carried out two surveys of our Solvers. InnoCentive was seeking ways to make Solvers happier with our Novel Molecule Challenges (NMCs, Challenges in which Seekers desire delivery of small amounts of novel molecules for testing in their assays). We did this even though InnoCentive was already giving Solvers an opportunity to find potential uses for the compounds they already had (something we know you’re interested in, but that’s often difficult to do) and get rewarded for it in the process – for a total of over $350,000 in awards to date for NMCs alone.
In response to the survey results, here are the concerns that you, our Solvers, voiced, and what we at InnoCentive are now doing as a result:
1. Clarify the Intellectual Property (IP) implications of participating in NMCs.
We realized there was confusion about the exact details of how IP worked with our NMCs. We know it’s a little obtuse. So we re-worded that portion of the Challenge, and highlighted it in the Challenge document. In exchange for the Initial Award, Solvers only give our Seekers a non-exclusive license to test the compounds in the Seekers assays and use them to make new compounds for testing. If a Seeker desires exclusive IP rights in order to manufacture or sell your particular "new composition of matter," they have to negotiate an additional award with you for that compound (see more below in #2).
2. Increase award amounts.
You told us the award amounts were too low to justify giving your compounds to our Seekers. Even for compounds you already had, the time involved in simply packaging and shipping the compounds made some of the awards too low. At InnoCentive’s urging, our Seekers have increased the Initial Award amounts. Furthermore, Solvers told us that our old system of awarding a flat rate of $25,000 for exclusive IP rights for a compound was not what all Solvers wanted. We’ve changed that portion of the Challenge so Solvers are now free to negotiate directly with our Seekers and secure whatever price they believe is fair for their compound.
3. Further protect Solver IP.
Some of our Solvers expressed concern about giving Seekers the exact molecular structure of their compounds (since molecular structures lie at the heart of IP on chemical compounds). As a former medicinal chemist at Merck and Co., Inc. I was particularly attuned to this concern. To answer it, InnoCentive has developed “Fingerprinting” NMCs. In this special sub-type of Challenges, the Seeker does not receive the molecular structure of Solver’s compounds in exchange for the Initial Award. In those cases, our Seekers have agreed to choose molecules based solely on physico-chemical data (molecular weight, calculated LogP, polar surface area, etc.) and results of a “Fingerprinting” program InnoCentive developed to ensure that Seekers acquire a representative set of Solvers’ molecules.
4. Make it even easier to participate in NMCs.
With new NMCs posting all the time, Solvers told us they wanted us to help them identify when they had molecules that might qualify for a Challenge. We’re all busy, so we figured anything we can do to help you stay focused on chemistry would be great. With our new Upload Your Libraries! Challenge, we do just that. If you upload a database or Excel file of your compound collection, we’ll store it in our secure database. Every time a new NMC posts, we’ll query our database and email you if you have any molecules that qualify. Of course, the decision to actually submit the compounds to the Challenge is still entirely yours – we won’t forward your molecules to the Seeker unless you decide to submit to the specific NMC.
We thought long and hard about the suggestions you made, and we hope you’re happy with the changes we’ve made to address them. Please let us know if there is anything else we can do to help make NMCs even more attractive to you.
Thanks, and best of luck in the lab! -Christian