It will be simpler, quicker and easier for universities to strike deals with commercial partners thanks to a set of model contracts.
The Lambert Model Agreements Toolkit was launched at the Government's Science and Innovation Conference in Manchester this week. It includes five model contracts for assigning intellectual property rights, as well as step-by-step decision-making advice and guidance on how to use the agreements.
The toolkit is the brainchild of Richard Lambert, former editor of the Financial Times who, in his 2003 report to the Treasury, identified conflicts over ownership of intellectual property as one of the major barriers to business links. The Treasury then asked Mr Lambert to create model agreements.
Mr Lambert said: "Universities assumed businesses were trying to rip them off. And businesses assumed universities were overvaluing their intellectual property. After the first meeting of the working group, I thought we wouldn't get anywhere."
He said that, as both sides realised they were on neutral territory, barriers went down and the process went smoothly.
Malcolm Skingle from GlaxoSmithKline, who chaired a focus group of universities and companies that helped to draw up the contracts, said he hoped further model contracts could be developed for consultancy, confidentiality agreements and the transfer of materials or substances owned by the other party.
Philip Graham, chief executive of the Association of University Research and Industry Links, said: "It will save a great deal of time, effort and money for all parties - the hard work's been done for them."
Digby Jones, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said the contracts would make working with universities more attractive to small and medium-sized enterprises.
He said: "We were seriously concerned that earlier proposals saying universities would automatically own the intellectual property rights to the products of business-university initiatives could lead to companies walking away from promising opportunities. That would have been bad for them, bad for the universities and bad for the UK economy."
The agreements can be customised and are voluntary, but many of the universities at the conference - including Cambridge, Liverpool and Belfast - said they would use them.
Details: www.dti.gov.uk/lambert agreements