A new Charity Commission consultation paper on charities and research supports written agreements between charities, researchers and their institutions on their responsibilities for supervision and publication of research and the ownership of the intellectual property it creates, writes John Bosnell.
The paper stresses "the obligation to disseminate and make publicly available the useful results of research". Research does not have to be published free, but should only be sold on a not-for-profit basis. This is already normal practice in most charity-funded research.
The document also contains guidelines for publicising research, influenced by the furore surrounding the publication of the flawed results of a study of the Bristol Cancer Help Centre. Charities should "satisfy themselves that the results are soundly based", and take into account how the results of research will be "received in the wider (non-scientific) community".
While publishing the results of research is seen as "an important aspect of academic freedom", charities must ensure that widely publicised work "is of adequate quality", even after peer review.
Diana Garnham, secretary of the Association of Medical Research Charities, said: "There is a difference between publication and publicity which is not made clear enough in the paper. But, the paper is very helpful in that it recognises the importance of peer review."
The Charity Commission recommends that intellectual property rights be patented and protected, either by the trustees of the charity, or by the researcher or the research institution.
The AMRC does not share the fears of some university technology transfer departments that giving charities "first refusal" on all IPR will mean that some innovations do not obtain commercial development. "The Charity Commission is saying that 'You must have a policy (on IPRs)' and that's very clear," said Ms Garnham.