U21 pools brains to take on markets

May 7, 1999

The 16 members of Universitas 21 have decided to exploit their collective intellectual property assets on the world market by incorporating their association.

The two-year-old global network of research universities voted at its third annual meeting in Montreal last month to broker deals, such as commercialising patents or professional training packages, on behalf of members.

U21 will file papers in London to incorporate the body officially.

Although U21's core budget is just $1 million, its combined intellectual property assets are vast, estimated at $15 billion.

The profits for deals will be funnelled into the group as a whole, with a share going to the university that offered up the intellectual property. It means U21 takes over the traditional role of the university business office.

Chairman Alan Gilbert, vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne, who set out the strategy in a conference paper, Seizing the Global Initiative, said: "Ninety per cent of the intellectual property is lost in universities because they are not capable of developing commercial capital."

He said the initiative will help universities that are poorly equipped to take many good discoveries to the marketplace.

"This is a substantial innovation in higher education," said Chris Robinson, director of U21's secretariat. The idea of capitalising on combined assets will prove that the group is greater than the sum of its parts.

Mr Robinson and Professor Gilbert acknowledged Sir Ron Dearing's dictum that higher education has yet to experience its revolution. "When it does, the traditional institutional framework will crumble," said Professor Gilbert.

Professor Gilbert called U21, which comprises four United Kingdom universities, four Asian, three Canadian, three Australian, one New Zealand and one American, "an array of intellectual firepower".

Sir Graeme Davies, principal of the University of Glasgow, said that exploring commercial options beyond one's own university will be that much easier because of the knowledge available about another country from the U21 university located there.

Sir Stewart Sutherland, principal of Edinburgh University, said the move will "show some multinational that we too are multinational".

The two-day conference also voted to extend student and academic exchanges and to develop international degrees.

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