Universities are set to establish joint companies with hospital trusts, after a move to allow the National Health Service to exploit its intellectual property rights.
Announcing the new powers, health minister Lord Hunt said: "The NHS needs to develop as an organisation that has innovation at its heart, generating wealth for better health. These new powers will enable the NHS to develop more of the good ideas that staff have in caring for patients."
In the past, the NHS has been unable to form companies with external investors to exploit intellectual property rights in the way that universities can. "This means that it has missed out on millions of pounds of potential income because private companies have gone on to make and profit from drugs and equipment originally created by NHS staff," he said.
In Leeds, Mike Smith, responsible for research policy at both the university and Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust, has involved six local health trusts and six universities in founding MedIPEX, a company that will provide education and training, help identify and protect intellectual property and enable commercial exploitation. "In addition to intellectual property that is developed solely in the NHS, the company will also support the commercialisation of intellectual property that has been developed jointly by the NHS and university sectors," Professor Smith said.
In time, Med IPEX will offer to manage intellectual property for all NHS trusts in Yorkshire and Humberside and will also identify non-commercial ideas that could still benefit the NHS.
At Oxford University, Ken Fleming, head of the medical sciences division, said: "Our technology-transfer wing, Isis, has already been working with the local trusts on the development of IPR policies. This work can now be further developed."
The powers were set out in the Health and Social Care Act 2001. The Department of Health has also issued guidance on how NHS trusts and primary-care trusts should manage intellectual property rights. One section outlines how the NHS, universities and NHS funding partners may treat intellectual property generated jointly. Technology-transfer hubs are being set up to help the NHS exploit intellectual property rights.