Majority vote to revise Cambridge rules governing intellectual property rights

December 16, 2005

Cambridge University academics voted overwhelmingly to back controversial reforms of the institution's rules on intellectual property this week, as headhunters continued their search for a new director of Cambridge's crucial technology transfer arm.

The new rules mean that the university will own the intellectual property rights on the ideas and inventions of its staff, bringing it into line with other major research universities in the world.

Key to ensuring the rules work effectively is Cambridge Enterprise, which in September began the search for a director.

Tim Cook, managing director of Isis Innovation, the technology transfer arm of Oxford University, has been involved in the search for a director at Cambridge. "The clarification of IPR rules means that the new director should be able to hit the ground running. The first task will be to convince researchers to use the centre. It must not be seen as a bureaucratic hindrance," he said.

Mr Cook said that he had been approached about the job but declined.

He said that while a small number of academics were highly entrepreneurial, the majority needed support. "Cambridge is sitting on an untapped asset,"

he said.

Discussion of IPR began in 2002 under former vice-chancellor Sir Alex Broers. The rules spell out how royalty income should be shared between the inventor, or academic, the department and central university in the form of Cambridge Enterprise.

If the academic decides to involve Cambridge Enterprise in the exploitation of an idea, the inventor will keep 90 per cent of the first £100,000 or royalty income, 60 per cent of the second £100,000 and 34 per cent of sums above £200,000 - giving a progressively larger share to Cambridge Enterprise and the inventor's department.

If the spin-off department is not involved in the exploitation of an idea, the inventor would keep all of the first £50,000 in royalties. For sums above £50,000 the inventor keeps 85 per cent with 7.5 per cent going to the department and 7.5 per cent to central funds.

Ian Leslie, pro vice-chancellor, said: "If academics have the relevant expertise to go out and find investment and develop spin-off companies themselves then they can do so."

But opponents of the reforms described their passing as a "sad day" for Cambridge. Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at the computer laboratory and a leader of the opposition, said: "These reforms have destroyed what made Cambridge special and led to the development of successful technology clusters in Silicon Fen."

Regent House, the university's ruling body, voted by 790 to 298 to embrace the changes.

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