My name is Chiara Vannucci, I am currently a Licensing Associate at Partners Healthcare Innovation. This department of Partners Healthcare, the non-profit healthcare network that includes Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), handles the patenting and licensing process of the most promising innovations coming out of the research done at BWH and MGH.
Describe your job and what you do on a day-to-day basis.
My main task is to assess the scientific strength, patentability and commerciality of an invention, based on the material (invention summary, manuscripts, presentations, grant proposals) that we receive from the inventors. I have to quickly gain a general understanding of the technology described in this disclosure material, then do a prior art search on relevant references that are similar to the disclosed technology and describe the patent strength based on these findings. Finally, I have to conduct an analysis of competitive technologies to define the market opportunities, and find potential licensees that could be interested in this invention. This thorough assessment process (“triage”) usually takes a few days, and it is followed by a meeting with the licensing managers and the intellectual property (IP) team to make a final decision about whether to pursue a patent coverage of the invention.
How did you get your first job out of academia?
Prior to moving to Boston, I worked as a scientist at Procter & Gamble in Belgium. It was a two-year program within a European funded project of knowledge transfer from academia to university. I was offered the position while still a Postdoc at the University of Florence. It was a great opportunity to experience work outside academia and it made me realize that I really wanted to pursue an alternative career to research. At P&G I was exposed to IP processes and to the business side of science, and I became really passionate about it.
What is your favorite part of your current job?
So far I have mainly enjoyed thinking of science from a different perspective, i.e. its commercial potential and its immediate usefulness for society. I also enjoy learning about cutting-edge technologies in research fields that are completely different from my background. I like the challenge of being able to navigate different scientific fields and learn what is going to make an impact in the next few years.
What are the unique challenges of this line of work?
The ability to establish fruitful relationships with people (both PIs and company representatives) is one of the most challenging aspects of this job. It requires a mix of qualities (diplomacy, negotiation and people skills) that are hard to learn and develop since there is little formal training that can be done to improve them, it just takes time and experience. Another major challenge for people without a law or business background are the IP and licensing aspects of this job. They both require a very specific language and deep understanding of the matter and the learning process can be quite slow.
Tell us about your academic background
My background is in physical and material chemistry. In Italy, I used techniques like spectroscopy and scattering to understand how nanosystems like surfactants, nanoparticles and polymers aggregate. During my second postdoc at Tufts University I studied how synthetic polymers can be used to make membranes for filtration that don’t have pores.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?
Stay focused on your goal and don’t let rejections get you down. It might take months before something opens up. Talk to as many people as possible in the field you are interested in to 1) learn from their experience and their mistakes, and 2) grow a network in that field. If possible, try to cultivate these connections beyond the setting of an informational interview.