TV tycoon backs Cambridge IP bid

December 2, 2005

A star of the BBC Two show Dragons' Den has weighed into the controversy over Cambridge University's intellectual property reforms, claiming that academics have a duty to hand over a share of their IP rights, writes Jessica Shepherd.

Doug Richard is one of five business experts, or "dragons", who pick apart the ideas of would-be entrepreneurs seeking financial backing.

The Californian millionaire has described the Cambridge plan to tighten its hold over academics' intellectual property as "rare and brave" and has branded the behaviour of academics who oppose the move as "inappropriate".

Mr Richard, a co-founder of Cambridge Angels - which helps technology start-up firms - said he was "astounded" that the intellectual property proposals were under attack.

Academics are voting on the reforms that would give the university control over all patents gained by its staff. At the moment, only patents created from externally funded research, such as those funded by research councils, are owned by the university.

Opponents argue that the new system would undermine Cambridge's position as one of the world's elite research institutions.

Mr Richard believes academics have a duty to hand over at least a share of their intellectual property rights to their university since it provides them with laboratories and resources.

He said: "If the university supplies the facilities and the funding, then asks for a share in return of the IP, it strikes me as, at best, ironic and, at worst, inappropriate for academics not to co-operate.

"Cambridge is to be praised. It hasn't aped the intellectual property policies in the US, nor has it backed away from a critical issue.

"The reforms go as far as they can but manage to keep Cambridge's spirit and preserve the milestones of academics' rights."

Mr Richard admits that as vice-chairman of Cambridge Angels he has a vested interest in the wellbeing of the technology sector in Cambridge.

Nonetheless, Mr Richard argues that rather than reduce the number of successful spin-offs from "Silicon Fen" - the nickname of the Cambridge cluster - the reforms will help develop new companies.

He said: "Cambridge is one of the top five universities in the world. Of those five, it is the only one that does not get a share of the intellectual property that is generated by its staff and students.

"In no case have these policies slowed the pace of growth of the clusters that surround the other top four universities.

Ross Anderson, professor of computing at Cambridge, believes that the intellectual property proposals will restrict the success of spin-offs, discoveries and inventions.

The university's 3,000 scholars will return their postal ballots by mid-December, after which a decision will be made on the reforms.

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