Easy but not free…

To return to an earlier topic (here and here), a couple of recent events have prompted me to have some more thoughts on the Easy Access model championed by Glasgow, KCL and Bristol.

First thought is whether the Easy Access model is a solution looking for a problem.  It seems to me that the major difference between the Easy Access model  and, say, a no fee evaluation agreement, is that the legal terms involved are non-negotiable and short.  If the problem that this model is trying to address is the perceived problem of negotiating with a university, why is a short licence the answer?  Why not look inwards and address the decision making processes in place within the university and reconsider the positions that universities sometimes take without much thought or attempt at serious justification?  If the problem is valuation of the IP, why is the answer not to charge royalties at all?  Why not defer the question until the nature of the product is clear and until a reasonable assessment can be made?  That would only add an extra clause (three lines or so) to the Glasgow licence.

Second thought concerns the nature of the publicity that the model has attracted.  The debate in the UK has been polite but robust, with a range of strongly held views being exchanged.  But the headline debate has been slightly misleading.  Glasgow’s own website refers to Glasgow “pioneer[ing] free IP for industry” and to the model as the “free IP concept”.  Headline grabbing but not the whole story.  The Easy Access model, as all of the participants in subsequent debates have been at pains to point out, is not quite “free IP”.  The Glasgow licence may be royalty free but it requires the licensee to acknowledge Glasgow’s contribution and it requires the licensee to use reasonable efforts to develop and exploit the IP.  And even then, the hype skates over the fact that it is a terminable licence, not a giveaway – more of an evaluation period, really.

Compare that with the University of Copenhagen’s measured announcement reported here and in the Copenhagen Post.  Yes, the IP is described as being available for free but the report highlights the need for the licensee to commit to developing to IP.  There is certainly a time and a place for making IP available on a royalty free basis but I wonder whether the hype has distorted the debate in the UK.

Third thought is that the model is spreading. 

Bristol and Kings followed Glasgow and now the University of Copenhagen has announced an easy access scheme.  That is a Good Thing because the more institutions that try it the better a picture we will have of whether the model is a success.  So far, the model has been up and running for six months or so and it has certainly received plenty of publicity.  And yet, as far as this correspondent can tell, the University of Copenhagen is the only university to have followed the Glasgow, Kings and Bristol lead.  Anecdotal evidence (not the best source, I admit) suggests that Glasgow hasn’t been swamped by a rush of applications for Easy Access licences.

Perhaps I am not the only one who is watching and waiting to see if the experiment works?

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