It's patently unfair: scholar calls for IP reform

June 10, 2010

Universities are losing millions of pounds a year managing their intellectual property rights thanks to a patenting system that favours the business sector, it has been warned.

A technology transfer expert has called for an overhaul to stem the financial waste caused by the system.

Martyn Buxton-Hoare, assistant director of technology transfer at the University of Surrey, said that academic researchers are forced to patent their discoveries months or even years earlier than their counterparts in industry, due to the pressure to publish in academic journals. He said the odds were stacked in favour of businesses.

In its advice to researchers, the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys warns: "To get a patent, your invention must not have been disclosed publicly anywhere in the world before you apply."

Universities pay about £3,000 to patent a discovery at the point of first publication. They then face a secondary charge 30 months later of £2,500 for every country where they wish to retain the rights.

Universities face a double hit financially, spending millions patenting research that comes to nothing, and later missing out on potentially lucrative income streams after abandoning patents they cannot afford to sustain without proof of their value, Mr Buxton-Hoare said.

"If you were in a private company doing development or research, you would be able to keep the thing under wraps. You can continue to work on it until you have proved whether it is of any use," he said.

UK universities generated £56 million from intellectual property in 2008-09, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Mr Buxton-Hoare said that universities should be allowed to wait five years before they faced the second patenting cost.

They could also consider patenting as an alternative to formal academic publication, meaning that scholars would be able to delay patenting while still retaining their academic records.

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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