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Internet

Web site will traffic in intellectual property

Major U.S. corporations are backing a new online clearinghouse for buying and selling intellectual property.

Major U.S. corporations are throwing their weight behind a new online clearinghouse for buying and selling intellectual property.

Founding sponsors of Yet2.com, which will host the service, include corporate heavyweights 3M, Boeing, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Ford Motor, Honeywell, Monsanto, Polaroid, Procter & Gamble, Rockwell and TRW.

Yet2.com aims to help corporations increase revenue streams from underutilized intellectual property, such as patents. The firm said it has lined up 60 companies as registered buyers on the site and plans to add more in its run at the estimated $105 billion worldwide technology licensing market.

"While companies devote substantial resources to research and development, their best innovations are often commercially underutilized," Chris De Bleser, chief executive of Yet2.com, said in a statement. "By speeding up the deal making, Yet2.com makes the licensing process much more efficient."

With its heavy corporate backing, Yet2.com could spark the use of the Internet by inventors who want to market their work and speed technology transfers--a process that has been hampered online because of security concerns.

Although Yet2.com has the backing of major corporations, the service is not unique. Other efforts to harness the Net to trade research and development rights include the Intellectual Property Technology Exchange, or TechEx, which is affiliated with Yale University's Office of Cooperative Research. Still, Yet2.com appears to be among the most ambitious of such programs.

Carol Mimura, senior licensing officer for the University of California at Berkeley, said she was unfamiliar with Yet2.com or any other Web site offering comprehensive technology transfer services.

She said other sites typically provide niche services targeting only one slice of the technology pie, such as TechEx, which focuses on the medical and biotechnology sectors.

"There are bits and pieces around," Mimura said.

The biggest hurdle facing online exchanges, she said, is that participants are usually unwilling to share confidential material without nondisclosure agreements. Even inadvertent disclosures, she said, could forfeit foreign patent rights and prevent inventors from filing for patent protection in the United States for up to a year.

But Mimura added that speed is of the essence in technology transfer deals, particularly in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology arenas, where developing commercial products can take years.

"It's a really great idea," she said. "In the case of drugs, for example, the patents are usually expiring by the time we're making any money."

That's where Yet2.com says it hopes to make a difference. In a statement, the company said it can cut down on the average 12 to 18 months it takes corporations to find buyers for an available technology.

Mimura suggested that the company may face some problems winning acceptance from skittish inventors.

"I'm sure the intellectual property issues have been very carefully worked out," she said. But she added that it would likely take some time to assure potential clients that the site is designed well enough to avoid public disclosure of proprietary material.