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New toolkit released to promote business-university collaboration in the UK

New template agreements and guidance have been published by the UK government to help businesses and universities work together on new research projects.

The 'Lambert 2' toolkit is an updated version of the Lambert toolkit which was created to help companies and universities navigate complex intellectual property (IP) issues that come with collaborating and sharing knowledge.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) said the value of collaborative research projects has increased by 9.9% to £1.26 billion, and that there has been an 18.5% rise in income generated as a direct result of IP, since the Lambert toolkit became available.

Businesses and universities can now select from any of 11 model contracts to help them negotiate the terms for their own collaboration initiatives. The agreements can be used for one-to-one or multi-party contracting.

"The ownership of the IP and the right to use it from a project are important considerations because they can confer a competitive advantage," the IPO said. "Where the results of a project enable the creation of a product with unique characteristics that is attractive to customers, ownership of the IP, or the exclusive right to use it, provides protection for the investment made in developing the product and taking it to market. Equally knowledge transfer and the engagement of academic or research institutions with industrial partners is acknowledged to be important to the economy of the UK."

Expert in IP law and university and business collaboration agreements Cerys Wyn Davies of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said the Lambert toolkit can help facilitate "a meeting of minds" between businesses and universities.

"The Lambert toolkit has helped demonstrate that there is an alternative norm to views generally held about disclosure and ownership of IP," Wyn Davies said. "There can sometimes be reluctance from organisations to give up ownership of IP which they have created or contributed to, and that reluctance can often serve as a barrier to collaboration. In the context of universities and businesses, it can be difficult to resolve this issue where there may be perceived to be competing or even conflicting aims, together with rigid attitudes to disclosure in collaborative research programmes."

"In particular, the ownership of IP should not be a deal-breaker for prospective collaboration since it is rights to use the technology etc. to which they relate that in fact usually matter most. What the Lambert toolkit shows with its model contracts and supporting guidance is that agreement can be struck on complex questions of IP ownership and use that are to all parties’ benefit," she said.

"The Lambert toolkit is aimed specifically at university-business collaborations, but it is a useful guide for business-business collaborations too. We are seeing a greater appetite for collaboration among organisations of all kinds in particular in light of the pressures to innovate stemming from digital disruption and connectivity. The toolkit can be a useful facilitator of discussion around IP issues that collaboration projects often engage," Wyn Davies said.

The updated Lambert toolkit was welcomed by Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK.

Dandridge said: "The launch of the Lambert toolkit was an important step forward in reducing barriers to university-industry research partnerships. Eleven years on, universities’ engagement in collaborative research with industry is stronger than ever, and the Lambert toolkit remains a valued reference for simplifying the negotiation of collaboration agreements. We welcome this update as an opportunity to ensure the toolkit addresses evolving challenges in this area and incorporates lessons learned from its implementation."

UK minister for IP, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, said the UK can benefit economically from university-business collaborations.

She said: "Marrying the R&D expertise of universities and the entrepreneurial excellence of UK business will help cement the UK’s position as an IP world-leader."

Data published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) in August revealed that the total value of university-business partnerships rose to £4.18 billion in 2014-15, from £3.93bn in 2013-14.

A report last year into business-university research collaborations, commissioned by the UK government, found that the UK is not making the most of the opportunity to link businesses and universities in research programmes. Among her recommendations, Dame Ann Dowling, the person behind the review, called for simplification of the UK's "research and innovation support system", which she said has "become excessively complex". Dowling also said "funding models" should be amended to encourage universities to make their IP available for wider use.

On the back of the Dowling review, a UK parliamentary committee opened an inquiry into how universities can be encouraged to adopt a longer term approach to the commercialisation of their IP.

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