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The statement, by PraxisUnico and the Association for University Research and Industry Links (AURIL), highlights the fact that universities’ main contributions to economic growth, business innovation and technology transfer flow through people. Universities are full of innovators and entrepreneurs, in the form of academic staff, researchers and students. These innovators should be free to pursue new research avenues, and to develop entrepreneurial talent and innovation expertise, as long-term contributions to the economy, including at a local level. Protecting this freedom is the most important principle for managing intellectual property in universities.

Universities recognise the importance of delivering impact for the economy and society, and work closely with businesses and other enterprises as an important part of achieving this. Increasingly, the focus of university efforts and HEFCE policies is to create strong, long-term and mutually beneficial partnerships with business, enabling the early identification of opportunities to exploit intellectual property (IP) and to co-invest in new developments. The Council’s support for knowledge exchange, through Higher Education Innovation Funding, and the UK Research Partnerships Investment Fund, exemplifies this approach of supporting multi-faceted links between universities and business. These approaches have been commended by the recent Witty Review (Note 2).

As AURIL and PraxisUnico stress, ‘cold IP’, unconnected from researchers and their partners, is an increasing rarity, though effective technology transfer from universities (the exploitation of IP through licensing and spin-outs) remains important. HEFCE recently published evidence that demonstrated the strong international standing of UK technology transfer (Note 3).

Central to handling IP effectively is a shared understanding between universities and industry partners of the differences between their missions, goals and legal and regulatory frameworks. The AURIL-PraxisUnico statement draws attention to concerns over the progress of embedding shared principles and approaches to handling IP between universities and businesses – the Lambert ‘toolkit’ (Note 4).

David Sweeney, HEFCE Director Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange, said:

‘AURIL and PraxisUnico remind us of the important fundamental principles that lie behind universities’ management of their intellectual assets: that people are central, as is the long-term contribution that universities can make in terms of new ideas and young talent. HEFCE has backed partnerships between universities and business through our HEIF funding since 1999 and this has led to strong results. These partnerships must provide value to both universities and businesses, or they will be neither positive experiences nor sustainable in the long term. We remain fully committed to the importance of the Lambert agreements, and stress the importance of good mutual understanding and shared benefits between universities and businesses.’

Notes

  1.  ‘Intellectual assets at the university-business interface: Seizing the opportunity’, AURIL/PraxisUnico October 2014
  2.  ‘Encouraging a British invention revolution: Sir Andrew Witty’s review of universities and growth’, UK Government October 2013. The Witty Review particularly commended HEFCE HEIF funding as being an effective source of support for universities in their economic contributions. HEFCE has published recent information on the achievements of HEIF. The report, ‘Knowledge exchange performance and the impact of HEIF funding in the English Higher Education Sector’, published in April 2014, confirmed that HEIF attracts £6.30 of external knowledge exchange income for every £1 of public funding, demonstrating universities’ success in gaining investment in their knowledge services from businesses and other enterprises.
  3. Measuring university-business links in the USA’ a report to HEFCE from Tomas Coates-Ulrichsen, Professor Alan Hughes and Barry Moore at University of Cambridge. HEFCE October 2014.
  4. Richard Lambert chaired a review of business-university collaboration for the Government in December 2003. He concluded that universities should generally own IP in publicly funded research, and that a set of principles and standard agreements between universities and businesses on handling IP should be developed. These agreements would ease and speed negotiations between universities and businesses, but most importantly they should raise understanding of the different missions, drivers and regulatory and legal frameworks. The agreements were evaluated in 2012 by the UK Intellectual Property Office and are currently being revised. More information on 'The Lambert toolkit 8 years on' is available. Although the agreements were endorsed by Government and all public funders, the evaluation recommends considerable divergence from the original principles and approaches.