UK ahead of rivals in technology transfer

November 14, 2003

UK university technology transfer is in robust shape despite the global economic downturn and a fall in the number of spin-off companies from British universities, according to a comprehensive survey of commercialisation activity.

For every dollar spent on research, UK institutions significantly outperformed their US and Canadian counterparts by creating more spin-offs and executing more licences, the UK University Commercialisation Survey for 2002 reveals. The UK produced 50 spin-offs per $1 billion (£600 million) spent on research, compared with 15 in the US and 38 in Canada.

UK universities generated 206 licences per $1 billion spent on research, compared with 120 in the US and 188 in Canada. The number of spin-offs from UK institutions that responded to both the 2001 and 2002 surveys fell to 118 last year from 175 the year before.

Buoying the sector is a handful of universities that are performing at world-class level, the report says. The majority, 71 institutions, reported no spin-off activities.

The survey, which is in its second year, was carried out by a team at Nottingham University's Business School in conjunction with the University Companies Association (Unico) and the Association for University Research and Industry Links (Auril).

It aims to compile data that can be used for international comparison of how the UK's technology-transfer offices are performing. The Association of University Technology Managers has been conducting a similar annual survey since 1991: publication of its latest survey is due this month.

Although UK universities created more spin-offs and executed more licences, they were unable to pull in anywhere near the income earned by institutions in North America. The report shows that the UK earned $10.9 million (£6.5 million) per $1 billion spent on research compared with $31.5 million in the US and $30.8 million in Canada. UK universities issued fewer patents than their North American rivals.

Tom Hockaday, chair of Unico and director of Oxford University's Isis Innovation, said he was delighted that more people were doing more things with more success. There was every chance that the UK could match the US in signing substantial licensing deals, he said. "The data show that the UK is highly effective at technology transfer and compares favourably with US activity levels," he said.

All 125 institutions contacted - members of Unico, Auril or both - responded, providing a significantly wider data set than in 2001.

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