Reasons for rules on intellectual property

December 17, 1999

Nottingham University's court case against reproductive biologist Simon Fishel (page 3) raises some general questions all universities will need to address if they are to be more entrepreneurial and academics are to become richer.

The rules governing ownership of intellectual property in universities tend to be unclear. This mattered little when academics were well paid, outside work rare and universities more generously funded. But the government is now cajoling universities to raise revenue and telling them salaries are their responsibility. Universities cannot meet these demands, especially when raising extra fee income is blocked, unless they can establish a right to a slice of earnings made by staff using their university's time and facilities. The question is not whether this should be done, but how much is fair and on what terms. Oxford recently revised its rules on the percentage staff receive to make them clear and more generous. All universities will need to move rapidly to make such things explicit.

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