UK universities earn paltry sums from their research compared with their North American counterparts, a new survey has shown.
In 2001, more than $1 billion (£610 million) was generated by the 198 US and Canadian institutions that replied to the annual Association of University Technology Managers survey. In contrast, UK universities reaped £16 million that year, according to the UK Technology Transfer survey.
Columbia University alone raked in $130 million from 146 licensing and options contracts - more than a third of its total research expenditure.
Edinburgh University, the top UK licence-income generator, collected £3 million in 2001, mainly from a patent for a hepatitis B vaccine developed in the 1980s.
Robert Marshall, head of technology transfer at Cambridge University, whose technology transfers brought in £1.8 million, said a time lag and cultural differences accounted for the transatlantic gap. "There has been technology-transfer activity at Cambridge for 30 years, but it's only in the past three that its resourcing level has gone up. This is indicative of the UK, which has come to it later. US business is also more open to licensing technologies."
The AUTM survey shows that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology generated $74 million. It also formed the most start-up companies, 29. The University of California held the most revenue-generating licences, 868.
Ajay Vohora, speaking for researchers at Nottingham University Business School, which is conducting the UK survey, said that for each pound spent on research, the UK outperforms the US at making discoveries but it does not make these pay.