Thursday, 20 November 2008

IP management and UK universities -- aims, objectives, incentives

Right: university researchers try to create a new policy for IP exploitation under laboratory conditions

IP Finance has received this note from Professor Ruth Soetendorp, Associate Director of Bournemouth University's Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management (CIPPM):

"Prof Paul Wellings reported last week on IP management and UK universities. His report, which examines intellectual property and universities, is one of a number commissioned by John Denham, Secretary of State for the Department of Innovation, University and Skills. The successful creation, management and (commercial) use of intellectual property created by members of the academic and research community are goals shared by government and institutions. Wellings identifies barriers to achieving that goal:

(a) an overemphasis on IP when universities and businesses work together on collaborative research projects;

(b) a lack of clarity on the primary aims of collaborative research (i.e. is it to generate income for the university, or a wider benefit for the economy?) and

(c) a rather variable implementation of good practice in negotiation.

His suggested means of surmounting those barriers include:

* DIUS to make a clear statement about the purpose of research commercialisation;

* Her Majesty's Treasury to continue the 'Roberts Funding' for postgraduate students and post-doctoral researchers to acquire additional transferable skills, including commercialisation of research, which covers IP awareness and competence;

* Universities to ensure their IP policies do not act as a disincentive for enterprise development.

Other recommendations highlight the importance of good working relationships within universities and research institutions, between their senior management and their knowledge (or technology) transfer offices, including

* Identification, exploitation and protection of IP to be promoted with a view to maximising socio-economic benefits;

* Appropriate incentives to be provided to help staff play an active role in IP creation and exploitation;

* IP management procedures to be published;

* Resources to be pooled at local or regional levels to build knowledge transfer critical mass.

Of concern to this writer is that the report contains the recommendation that "students to be properly informed (about intellectual property concepts) before assigning IP ownership to their institution", while falling short of suggesting exactly HOW students might be 'properly informed' on IP matters".

My concern is that different IP rights should be recognised as being of quite a different nature and that they should not be lumped together. For as long as policy-makers persist in talking about IP rather than sector-specific creation and exploitation of legally unique rights, they will continue to miss the mark.

1 comment:

Amanda Harcourt said...

I have a limited experience of teaching copyright in the UK university system, and only on undergraduate and one post graduate syllabus - ie not on a PhD course. It was my understanding that the position as to ownership of rights in original works created by students during their period of study was/is established in the terms under which students apply and commit to study at a particular institution. That is, the student acknowledges and agrees that copyright will vest in the institution at the beginning of their study and before they have created any copyrights that would be subject to this principle. And, presumably, before a student has had much of an opportunity to understand the potential economic impact of such an assignment of future rights. This seems unconscionable, particularly when one considers the difference in bargaining power between the student and their chosen institution. I do not know, however, whether this applies as a general principle across all or most undergraduate institutions.

While one should welcome the DCMS' proposal (see From Margins to Mainstream: Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy, February 22nd 2008) for better links between industry and education and the recommendation of the introduction of IP to the national curriculum, it does beg the questions: Are educational institutions equipped to provide accurate ip advice to students - that is copyright, trademarks and patents each with their own distinct features. Or will the teaching of IP in schools simply produce a wave of the usual misinformation ie"if you only use 2 bars of a song, it isn't infringement" or, of annoyance to the pedant, the continued use of the word "copyright" as a verb? (Patent lawyers will have their own examples of irritating misinformation). And, if the institutions are to source it outside their establishment, can they afford to pay for it?