Universities lack commercial savvy about IP, minister argues

September 25, 2008

Universities may have become over-protective of their intellectual property rights, Science Minister Ian Pearson told a Labour party conference fringe meeting this week.

"One criticism I hear is that universities are now too protective of their intellectual property and it is making it difficult to agree deals with businesses," Mr Pearson told delegates.

The Government has commissioned a review of how universities exploit the ideas and inventions of their academics for the benefit of the institutions and the wider economy. The study group is headed by University of Lancaster vice-chancellor Paul Wellings.

"Some universities are more commercially savvy than others," said Mr Pearson. "Very often the person behind the invention is not the best one to commercially exploit it ... There are a number of different models for getting around that, but it is a complex picture. My key message is that there is a lot more we can do to support university-business interaction."

Tony Bellis, public affairs and policy manager at international technology company 3M, told the meeting that some approaches from universities hoping to exploit the results of pure research showed a lack of commercial awareness.

Speaking to Times Higher Education after the event, he said: "They have a lack of basic understanding about marketing and how to commercialise a product. Often they have done no research into the market, they don't understand how a supply chain works or anything about what needs to be done to take a product to market."

Such ignorance counted against a university when 3M weighed up whether or not to enter into a partnership with it, Mr Bellis explained. "But things are better than they were."

Professor Wellings' review of IP, which is due to be completed this month, will look at the relationship between investment, economic benefit and output in terms of papers, patents and products, and the roles of local and international business in translating research into products and services.


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