Partnerships between universities and businesses have been transformed by a series of model legal agreements drawn up by the Government to help foster research collaborations, saving both parties time and money, according to new research.
A survey into the use of the Lambert Agreements - a series of model contracts that set out intellectual property (IP) ownership guidelines for collaborative research projects - has found that they are improving the relationship between research partners and are being adopted by universities across the world, including ones in the United States, Mexico and Portugal.
Of the universities that responded to the survey, which was carried out by the Association of University Research and Industry Links, 40 per cent were already using the contracts and a further 20 per cent planned to use them.
Of those already using the agreements, 60 per cent said they had saved the university time, and the same proportion believed their use led to better agreements.
More than half (55 per cent) said they saved money, and just under a third said they provided useful information. Some 60 per cent said they could not be improved.
"Of course, something can always be improved, but this indicates an amazing level of satisfaction," said Brian McCaul, director of commercialisation at the University of Leeds. "It's way beyond where I thought we'd be at this stage."
The views of universities were echoed by the responses from industry, particularly small and medium-sized businesses.
"There used to be a fear from university respondents that industry would not like (model contracts). That seems to have evaporated. Experience of use now means that 95 per cent of industrial collaborators are either positive in response to the contracts' use or neutral - just 5 per cent are not keen. This is a massive, positive shift," Mr McCaul said.
Of those universities that are not using the Lambert Agreements, many were adopting elements from them to build up their own contracts. "They are influencing practice in a positive direction," Mr McCaul said.
Universities not using Lambert Agreements often had in-house contracts in place.
"If you look at where institutions did not use them, there is a logistics issue. They have spent years developing their own contracts and they're loath to give them up because their starting point is always their own interest," Mr McCaul added.
"But the whole point of the Lambert process is that if you have got two parties starting from that point, you're going to spend a lot of time haggling. The point is that it's partly pre-negotiated."
But some respondents said they were not using Lambert Agreements because they had not heard of them.
"I think there is a PR job to do," Mr McCaul conceded.
LAMBERT AGREEMENT TOOLKIT
There are five model contracts that set out the legal relationship between university and research sponsor, detailing ownership of intellectual property (IP).
The agreements range from contract research, where the sponsor owns all IP and the university cannot publish without its permission, to the university owning the IP but offering the sponsor exclusive rights to its discoveries.
The contracts are available from www.innovation.gov.uk/lambertagreements.