In a fluorescent lit meeting room, isolated from the world by frosted glass walls, a Sunday afternoon drama is unfolding. Leaning over a small oblong desk, a young woman faces off with a young man. She is the coolheaded CEO of a multinational corporation which produces blood filtration materials for the biotech and health-care industries. He is the eager head of a startup company. They are thrashing out the final, crucial details of a major licensing deal.
Around the stuffy room, technology transfer experts, commercialization professionals and patent writers specializing in medical devices debate the latest offer on the table. An assistant struggles to locate a smartphone buried under a jumble of post-it notes and pizza trays. Yet one element is overlooked in the rush to meet a looming deadline for signing a game changing deal: this is a game.
Students in the new Skoltech course — called “Intellectual Property and Technological Innovation” — spent a whole weekend, day and night, negotiating a technology license agreement. Forty two students, in nine teams and more than ten countries, spent two intensive days playing an “intellectual property licensing game” in which they had to: learn and hone negotiation skills; connect financial analysis, market analysis, industry analysis, intellectual property analysis and technology assessment; learn to master the art of working as a team; and reach a win-win licensing deal by the end of the weekend. Each team spent many days in preparing prior to playing the game.
As the negotiations are reaching boiling point, Professor Kelvin Willoughby, Associate Dean at Skoltech, who taught the course and oversaw the final exercise proceedings steps outside the room. Willoughby says he was impressed by how “most of the participants forgot that they were playing a game. They took on the persona of the corporate position they assumed, and strategized and negotiated as if their survival depended on it. It is a simulation, yet it is hard work and it is real.”
A sigh of relief is heard from inside the meeting room and the door is flung open. Participants are applauding one another and cheering. The fierce CEO and fearless entrepreneur shake hands. Everyone morphs back from character to student form. It is time to go to class for conclusions and takeaways.
(Text: Ilan Goren. Photos: kelvin Willoughby and Zeljko Tekic)