Trio to sign up to exploit ideas

November 18, 2005

Three more universities are expected to sign deals with intellectual property firm IP2IPO to exploit their academics' ideas and inventions.

IP2IPO creates spin-off companies at Oxford, Southampton, Leeds and York universities and King's College London. Three more institutions are expected to become IP2IPO partners over the next year and a half.

The company, founded three years ago and valued at £237 million, has floated five of its universities' technology spin-offs on the Alternative Investment Market.

Alan Aubrey, IP2IPO's managing director, told The Times Higher that the company was in talks with three more universities, but declined to reveal which ones.

He said: "We would expect another university to join us in the next six months. Over the next 12 to 18 months we intend to bring three new partners into our fold. These are not necessarily Russell Group institutions.

"We believe eight partners is a good number to give us a critical mass."

Mr Aubrey also revealed that several European universities had approached IP2IPO, which stands for Intellectual Property to Initial Public Offering.

But some academics fear that IP2IPO's expansion plans could deprive universities of millions of pounds.

The firm prefers to sign deals in which it gets a stake in all the intellectual property of an institution or department.

For example, IP2IPO has a 50 per cent share of Oxford's interest in spin-off companies and technology licences from its chemistry department until 2015.

Ederyn Williams, director of Warwick University's technology transfer office who is on the council of the Association for University Research and Industry Links, warned universities not to hurry into any partnerships with IP2IPO.

He said: "A single piece of intellectual property has in the past been worth in excess of £100 million.

"If universities sign off their intellectual property, they might be losing out on huge amounts of money. They also lose the capacity to judge their worth and become entirely reliant on IP2IPO's commercialisation experience.

"Some universities might be rushing into this a little too quickly. Several universities I have talked to are very reluctant to do such a deal."

Arthur Francis, dean of Bradford University's School of Management, said:

"It's important for universities to strike the right balance - to give IP2IPO the incentive to sell their intellectual property but without giving them such a big incentive that they take all the money."

IP2IPO's five flotations include King's Proximagen, which is worth at least £5 million, Southampton's Synairgen, worth nearly £8 million, and Oxford's Vastox, worth £7 million.

David Norwood, chief executive of IP2IPO, has declared his intention to expand into Scotland, but sources at Scottish universities say IP2IPO has made little progress north of the border.

Two years ago the firm held talks with Edinburgh University that were later abandoned.

jessica.shepherd@thes.co.uk

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