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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

May 8, 2007 at 5:10 PM

Leroy Hood, pundit extraordinaire

After spending a little time with computational biology pioneer Leroy Hood 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 CTO 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.

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.

Comments | More in | Topics: Biotech

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