Should universities protect IP then give it away?

Readers may have seen the news, a few months ago, that the University of Glasgow was offering to exclusively license some of its intellectual property on a free basis.  This prompted a vigorous debate in the Spin Out group of LinkedIn (see the Manager’s Choice link in the top right hand corner of that group’s home page).  Some members of the group thought this was a great idea, and was evidence that universities were finally “getting it” about their duties to support UK industry.  Some others thought it was a publicity stunt, and that the IP on offer was old stuff that the university had been trying to license for years; in effect it was a clearance sale to get rid of old stock, with the hope of some research funding from anyone who took a free licence.

There seemed to be a consensus in the group that the Principal of the university was hoping that this initiative would demonstrate the public impact of his university’s research (an essential criterion for funding nowadays).  To quote from the Principal’s press release at the time, “our objective is to demonstrate the relevance, importance and impact of Glasgow’s research…”

This blogger is uneasy about the use of public resources to protect IP (eg by patenting) then exclusively licensing that IP to one commercial company without charge, presumably on the basis that the licensee can block competitors from using the IP.  It has long been recognised that exclusive licensing may be the best way to get certain technologies into the market, for the benefit of mankind.  For example, a pharma company may require an exclusive licence if it is to invest in developing a drug.  It is taking matters one step further to say that the best way of getting technology to market is for the university to invest in IP protection to assist the exclusive licensee (or, at the time of that investment, the potential licensee), but with no expectation of financial return or even cost recovery for the university.

It was interesting to see that one of the successful entrants in the IPO’s recent Fast Forward Competition was a consortium of Glasgow, KCL and Bristol, who won £80,000 to develop Glasgow’s “easy access” model further.  IP Draughts wishes them well, and hopes they will find a successful model that addresses our concerns.

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Filed under Intellectual Property, Licensing

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