Ratings, not cash, is prime incentive

July 28, 2006

Nine out of ten academics would rather publish their work to boost research ratings than exploit it commercially, according to a survey, writes Letitia Hughes.

Law firm Morgan Cole found that 90 per cent of respondents agreed with a statement that university colleagues were more focused on publishing to boost their research assessment exercise scores than on applying for patents for their research. Almost seven out of ten (68 per cent) agreed strongly with the statement.

The results, based on a survey of the most senior people responsible for exploitation of intellectual capital at 50 English and Welsh universities, revealed that even where universities did exploit their intellectual capital, the cash value amounted to no more than 0.2 per cent of total institutional funding on average. Even the most successful generated no more than 2.5 per cent of total funding.

The survey also found that while most institutions have a unit responsible for exploitation, 26 per cent have not adopted a formal exploitation policy and 28 per cent have not prepared standard licence agreements.

Emyr Lewis, a partner at Morgan Cole, said: "This all suggests that there is still a long way to go for many higher education institutions in making the most of their intellectual capital from a commercial perspective.

"I think the most important thing (for universities) is to involve, within the process, people who have experience of exploiting intellectual property in the marketplace.

"The message to business and finance should be to better understand the priorities and dynamics of the higher education institutions."

In nearly all cases, universities own the intellectual property created by academic staff although proceeds from exploitation are generally shared.

The survey, Commercial Exploitation of Intellectual Capital in English and Welsh Universities , was carried out by Wheeler Associates/McCallum Layton on behalf of Morgan Cole Solicitors.

More than 30 per cent of respondents felt that their university was not very effective at exploiting its intellectual capital. The most common barriers to achieving this goal cited by respondents were a lack of resources, a lack of support from academics and a lack of outside investment.

Nonetheless, most institutions surveyed have created spin-off companies, and a fifth of respondents said that the rate of spin-off formation was increasing.

The university takes a seat on the board of its spin-off companies in two thirds of cases.

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