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Originally published May 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 10, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Brier Dudley

Schools need to master intellectual property

Excerpts from the blog After spending a little time with computational biology pioneer Leroy Hood on Monday, I suggested that he write a...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Excerpts from the blog

After spending a little time with computational biology pioneer Leroy Hood on Monday, I suggested that he write a few columns the next time I take a vacation.

Hood was among the big thinkers who spoke Monday at OVP Venture Partners' Technology Summit, an annual event the Kirkland venture firm holds for investors and investees.

Press wasn't invited, but there was a consolation event afterward featuring Hood, Kodak Chief Technology Officer Bill Lloyd, Calit2 Director Larry Smarr and digital media strategist Seth Shapiro.

Smarr, the summit's keynote speaker, said one of the "seismic shifts going on in the investment community is the way in which one manages the innovation process in universities and couples that into the private sector investment."

That's a sore subject for Hood, who was lured to the University of Washington by Bill Gates in 1991 in a key turning point for the state's biotech industry. But Hood left the school to form his own research center in 1999, in part because it would offer more flexibility.

I asked how the potentially enormous returns on research are affecting the schools and whether they would limit cross-disciplinary opportunities that Smarr had described.

Hood said one of the challenges is that universities aren't as sophisticated about managing intellectual property. Their low-salaried IP managers "don't stand a chance against the wolves," such as pharmaceutical companies.

"As a consequence they tend to be incredibly conservative, incredibly careful, unwilling to do things that would make sense," he said. "It's one of the big problems that most academic institutions really face."

Hood said there are fewer than five schools that "do this really well." I asked if the five included any in Washington state, and he said no.

It's hard for any state institution, especially since there are conflicting priorities.

"For a lot of states it's better to have a really good football team than a really good IP team," he said.

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Going forward, Hood expects to see more VCs "trying to set up a long-term relationship with the key academics" who may spin off groundbreaking ideas for companies.

Hood's also skeptical about the prospects for the state's $350 million Life Sciences Discovery Fund, "which I think has made every single mistake a fund can make."

Among the shortcomings: It's too small and unfocused.

Glowing PCs

Best laptop and desktop? Apple and Dell.

That's the conclusion of Consumer Reports, which has a special computer section in its June issue.

Its top-rated laptop: Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch.

Its top-rated desktop: Dell Dimension E520 (with Intel Core 2 Duo E6300).

Ads up, heads up

I thought there would be bubbly on the floor at aQuantive after the Seattle digital marketing firm blew past Wall Street estimates on Tuesday, but the floors were dry and nobody was dancing in the halls when I visited with Chief Executive Brian McAndrews a few hours after the earnings call.

Some highlights of the conversation:

More acquisitions are possible, even after aQuantive bought five companies over the past 15 months. "In general, yes, we expect that to be part of the plan," he said.

Google's purchase of DoubleClick led to speculation that aQuantive would be purchased next. McAndrews wouldn't comment on this, but noted that aQuantive's Atlas unit is now the last big independent ad-serving tool and that independence is valuable to advertisers.

"If that tool is owned by one of the places you're sending your dollars, it certainly creates a conflict," he said.

I asked about the challenge of managing a multi-threaded company like aQuantive, whose mission is hard to describe in a few lines.

"It is complex, but the flip side of that is one of the reasons we're doing so well is the industry is so complicated — complexity is our friend, because our job is making it easier for our clients," he said. "If it was a simple thing, they wouldn't need us, they'd just do it themselves."

Microsoft is one potential suitor; Yahoo! could be another. I asked if McAndrews and Yahoo! boss Terry Semel were getting together when Semel's in town this week for Microsoft's ad summit.

"He's at my house," McAndrews joked, dismissively. "We're playing tennis later."

This material has been edited for print publication.

Brier Dudley's blog appears Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.

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About Brier Dudley

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
bdudley@seattletimes.com | 206-515-5687

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