MPs to look to encourage universities to free up IP

Out-Law News | 12 Jul 2016 | 5:24 pm | 2 min. read

A group of MPs are investigating how universities can be encouraged to adopt a longer term approach to the commercialisation of their intellectual property (IP).

The Science and Technology Committee said it is inquiry into managing IP and technology transfer would look at how well the existing system for commercialising university research works and "what measures are needed to improve it".

The inquiry is a follow up to findings outlined in a government-commissioned report last year which recommended that "funding models" be amended to encourage universities to make their IP available for wider use.

In her review of business-university research collaborations Dame Ann Dowling said: "Universities have rightly become more aware of the importance of intellectual property and have significantly professionalised their knowledge exchange activities. However, there is a tension between the desire to earn short-term income from their IP and the need to deliver wider public benefit, and potentially greater long-term return on investment from this IP. The emphasis needs to shift towards the latter, and this must be reflected in technology transfer office funding models and success metrics."

The Science and Technology Committee has invited stakeholders to submit written evidence to its inquiry by 15 September. It said it would welcome comments on a range of issues, including on "how well universities and TTOs (technology transfer offices) balance objectives of protecting IP and encouraging public-benefit research, and whether TTOs’ and universities’ IP strategies effectively deliver such objectives in practice".

The Committee said stakeholders could also provide evidence on the issue of funding arrangements for research commercialisation by TTOs and whether they are both "adequate" and "facilitate an appropriate balance of objectives and an appropriate balance between short-term and longer-term aims".

Submissions on whether large businesses and SMEs have equal access to "commercialisation opportunities" are also welcome, it said.

"I don’t believe that universities prioritise short-term returns on investment from IP commercialisation over the wider public benefits that could be gained from its use," expert in technology and universities law Chris Martin of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said. "Universities are committed to sharing and disseminating knowledge and most will spend more on technology and knowledge transfer activity than they make from commercialising intellectual property. There is a real commitment within the UK higher education sector to effective knowledge transfer as an important aspect of delivering their core objectives of research and education."

"However, in some cases universities could take a more strategic approach. Developing long-term strategic partnerships with industry, including SMEs, can be powerful and deliver significant benefits to all of the participants. We have seen a number of examples of this in recent years. In such arrangements, a university may elect to offer access to IP to its partners on favourable terms and still generate significant 'up-side' in the longer term through investment by its commercial partners in research, research facilities and graduate programmes. Those strategic partnerships might be more beneficial than one-off IP licensing agreements for all concerned. However, there can be no 'one size fits all' approach," he said.

"It must be remembered as well that most universities are charities and, as such, they need to ensure that their assets, including intellectual property that they own, are deployed and used in a way which furthers their charitable objectives, both in the short and longer term. That may involve ensuring that an appropriate commercial return, which can be re-invested in research and education, is generated when intellectual property is made available to commercial partners.” Martin said.

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