Patently lucrative

October 31, 1997

While others are being encouraged to carve out their own careers by setting up in business.

While institutions have been slow to get into teaching their students to be entrepreneurs, most are having to rely on their managers' financial nous to survive the tightening of public purse strings. Academics, it would seem, must now become entrepreneurs too.

Warwick Business School, famed for pulling in private cash, will soon announce a 16 per cent rise in its income to Pounds 12.3 million. Warwick does very applied research, and sells it to big business as consultancy work. Bob Galliers, Warwick Business School chairman, said: "Where would we be now if we relied on the Higher Education Funding Council?".

Cambridge University's vice chancellor Alec Broers has made it clear that partnership with industry is the way forward for cash-strapped institutions. Earlier this year he wooed software giant Bill Gates to set up a multimillion pound research laboratory near Cambridge.

Cambridge pro-vice chancellor Roger Needham will head the Microsoft lab, which will work alongside Cambridge's own lab, but Cambridge has ensured that there is a clear arrangement regarding the university's intellectual property rights.

Patenting inventions and research discoveries is the key to financial success. Martjin Mugge, who runs seminars for universities about how to set up entrepreneurship schools and cultivate business, said: "There are so many research findings which could be making universities money. But academics tend to let ideas into the public domain by publishing findings and they miss out. Or they sell discoveries too early."

In 1987, Margaret Thatcher paved the way for the new breed of entrepreneurial university leaders, when she encouraged institutions to patent their discoveries. Oxford University, notably, set up Isis Innovations, to market inventions. But commercialism can shake academic credibility, and there has been a backlash. Oxford dons have become embroiled in a row over June Clark, who resigned as director of the research and commercial services department earlier this year. Mrs Clark made a legitimate Pounds 300,000 windfall directing Oxford spin-off companies. Dons felt there was a conflict between her interests and the university's. Oxford has now drawn up tough rules on the outside interests of staff.

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