Cambridge moves to grab property rights

March 1, 2002

Cambridge dons may be required to hand over most of their intellectual property rights as the university moves to modernise its rules for exploiting inventions.

Cambridge University believes it could be allowing millions of pounds to slip through its fingers as its intellectual property arrangements remain ad hoc.

Chris Padfield, director of the university's corporate liaison office, said: "We are indeed, as a university, moving to develop and clarify our practice in this area, where we have operated without a clear policy."

Cambridge is working closely with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and may adopt key aspects of its successful IPR procedures.

The two universities' joint research and teaching institute, the Cambridge-MIT Institute, has already largely adopted the MIT model on IPR and is working on a project to spread best practice throughout Cambridge and British universities in general.

While Cambridge ultimately owns the intellectual property of its staff, it has allowed its staff almost total freedom over the exploitation of their ideas and knowledge.

Confirming a deficit of nearly £10 million last week, Cambridge University treasurer Joanna Womack said that commercialising knowledge and becoming more entrepreneurial was a key move to secure future financial stability.

MIT has a clear IPR structure in which the spoils of exploited research are usually divided equally between MIT, the inventor and their department.

Where outside commercial sponsors have funded research, MIT insists on maintaining ownership but usually negotiates special licences, or royalty-free deals, to ensure the commercial partner also benefits from its investment.

Dr Padfield said that Cambridge was not simply adopting the US model. He said: "We are learning from whoever and adapting the lessons that we have picked up from MIT and others to the Cambridge context."

Launching a report on the CMI's progress, its US director, John Vander Sande, said British universities had a lot to learn from the US system. "While there is very considerable 'intellectual horsepower' in the UK, there has been a frustration about how that can leave the ivory towers and move into the marketplace."

The moves in Cambridge are seen as an essential part of its modernisation drive, designed to ensure that it remains competitive in the global market, alongside current consultation over a fundamental reform of its management and governance structures.


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