Universities lose out on licensing research

April 16, 1999

Research deals between universities and companies should better reflect the contributions of academics, according to John Kirkland of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

"A lot of these agreements are written in language ten years out of date. We have to ask whether we are storing up problems for the future," Dr Kirkland said.

According to surveys by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the average university derives Pounds 200,000 to Pounds 300,000 from licensing its research. This figure is supplemented by other exploitation routes, for example spin-out companies, Dr Kirkland said. "It amounts to less than 1 per cent of total university research income from grants and contracts, which seems disappointing."

In an attempt to explain the low rate of return to universities, the institute examined several hundred "live" research contracts. They found few mechanisms for tracking university-generated intellectual property. "I do not think this is malicious on the part of companies - if the issue is not brought up then it is understandable there is no tracking," he said.

Universities rarely resort to litigation. "The nightmare scenario is corporate or intellectual property lawyers getting involved," Dr Kirkland said.

The survey also found ineffective measures for triggering licence payments to universities and unclear definitions of intellectual property ownership.

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