Industrialists and academics envisage licence for skill

August 11, 1995

The Royal Society of Edinburgh and Scottish Enterprise have been bringing together academics and industrialists in a bid to capitalise on Scotland's scientific research, writes Olga Wojtas.

Their joint inquiry into the commercialisation of Scottish science is intended to complement the Government's Technology Foresight Programme, smoothing the way towards local exploitation of academic research.

Both bodies say this has the potential to improve Scotland's economic development, and to benefit higher education by helping to ensure investment in high quality research.

Bob Downes, director of industry and skills at Scottish Enterprise, said Scotland had an exceptionally good higher education sector, but the commercialisation of Scottish research tended to take place outside the country.

"We know other regions are spending a lot of time and effort on linking the higher education sector much more closely to the commercial base.

"But the relationship between companies in Scotland and higher education does not appear to be as successful as one would wish," he said.

The two bodies say the success of any strategy for the future will depend on all parties agreeing on its main points.

They have convened a series of focus groups, asking academics and industrialists what they see as the main constraints to exploiting research.

The inquiry is examining licensing and patenting of intellectual property rights, the development of science parks, and links between the academic and industrial sectors such as secondments and contract work.

A discussion document will be presented at a forum for higher education principals and industrial leaders in October, in the hope of agreeing priorities. An action plan will be unveiled in early spring.

Hamish Wood of the RSE, former vice principal of Strathclyde University, welcomed the forthcoming research assessment exercise as taking much more account of work with commercial potential.

But he warned that continuing funding cuts meant there were immense pressures on higher education institutions to realise the commercial value of research through licensing and royalty fees rather than trying to set up a spinoff company.

"That is one of the factors which concerns us most," he said.

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