Giving up IP rights may maximise gains, v-c claims

Strategy ties 'enlightened self-interest' to creation and spread of knowledge. Hannah Fearn reports

July 29, 2010

Giving up intellectual property rights stemming from academics' work can help universities increase the income generated from research and retain their best staff.

Simon Gaskell, vice-chancellor of Queen Mary, University of London, is considering resurrecting an IP policy that he said had been used successfully at the former University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (Umist), which is now part of the University of Manchester.

Professor Gaskell this month published a new strategic plan for Queen Mary, requiring each academic at the institution to "create" and "disseminate" knowledge.

The plan places an emphasis on commercialisation and public engagement, and success in "dissemination" will also be reflected in promotion criteria.

Before the creation of the University of Manchester through the merger of Umist and the Victoria University of Manchester in 2004, Umist allowed academics working at the institution to retain all IP rights to their work, rather than hand over a share to the university as a term of employment.

Professor Gaskell said that the institution's policy had been one of "enlightened self-interest", as it had also provided access to a consultancy, Umist Ventures, to help academics successfully spin off their research. When a spin-off company generated income, the institution then received a cut of the profits in return for its services.

"Academics who want to exploit their IP need help doing it, and if you have good enough in-house services, academics make use of them," Professor Gaskell said.

The vice-chancellor argued that Umist's IP policy had helped motivate academics to commercialise their work as well as preventing the loss of talented academics to industry.

He said it was important for universities to keep their best academics happy and to allow them to "see the return" on their work.

After the merger, the new University of Manchester introduced a scheme that allowed academics who commercialised their research to retain a "generous" 85 per cent of the proceeds, which Professor Gaskell said had also proved to be a successful approach.

In considering a new IP policy for Queen Mary, Professor Gaskell said that he was "veering on the side of generosity" (in the share of IP handed over to academics).

"What this gets away from is the notion that exploitation of IP and the outcome of research is somehow an optional add-on to what university academics do."

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