Innovators get matchmaker

June 1, 2001

An online technology directory has been launched to help universities attract business partners and exploit their ideas commercially.

The University Technology Directory, which is free, has been developed by the Association for University Research and Industry Links (Auril) and will be housed on the United Kingdom Patent Office website.

Following a pilot scheme with 25 universities, it was launched last week at the "Innovation Exchange" conference in Leeds. It will act as a brokering service to encourage the creation of spin-off companies. The database will showcase details of technologies available to license from universities across the UK and Ireland.

Speaking at the conference, Anthony Murphy, director of copyright at the Patent Office, said the road from vision to realisation of ideas was often tortuous. But the speed at which new technologies were now evolving, meant that ways of helping the brightest ideas move quickly from laboratory to marketplace were needed.

"The aim is to speed up commercialisation of new technologies by allowing entrepreneurs and their researchers to use a range of search keys to navigate quickly towards their specific areas of interest," he said.

"The directory is a key element in ensuring that the intellectual- property resources created by universities are effectively valued, managed and promoted."

Initial feedback from the trial has been positive and it is now available to all universities.

Richard Farndale, a biochemistry researcher at Cambridge University, said hard-pressed academics often found it difficult to allocate time to commercialise their ideas.

"The difficulty is finding an active industrial partner who is willing to put in the effort; it can be a very time-consuming business. I have come across a number of colleagues with potentially good ideas that could be commercially exploited, but receive no return," he said.

"Universities are actively seeking to develop income but in practice it is very difficult. This database will help ease the search, secure in the knowledge that you have patents filed for potential inventions."

Sheila Robson, Auril executive secretary, said the directory would provide smoother and more direct contact with potential investors and partners. While similar commercial databases existed, this was the only one specifically for universities.

"We think we have something that will hopefully grow and may even become the first place potential partners will look. We will be interested to see how it takes off as we have not done anything like it before, but the signs are encouraging," she said.

The Innovation Exchange conference at Leeds Royal Armouries was a showcase for emerging technologies from the fields of energy, health, the environment and materials.

Among those featured were water purification using ozone from the University of Bradford, an artificial arm from Sheffield Hallam and a compact high-efficiency fuel cell from Imperial College, London.

Details: www.auril.org.uk

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