University IP: A Source of Finance and Impact

IP Draughts has received a review copy of a new book entitled University Intellectual Property: A Source of Finance and Impact.

It is a short, multi-author handbook (149 pages) written by a team of experts, including several people whose work IP Draughts respects and with whom he has collaborated on IP-related projects:  Alex Weedon of UCL Business plc, Ian Bingham of IP Asset, and Sir Robin Jacob of UCL Faculty of Laws.  The book is edited, and several chapters are written, by Graham Richards, a former head of Chemistry at the University of Oxford and now the senior non-executive director of IP Group plc.

The book examines its subject mostly from the perspective of practitioners who deal with IP on a regular basis.  The authors know what they are talking about, and they explain their views clearly.  They provide case examples and anecdotes to support their analyses and conclusion.  There is very little waffle.  Most of the book is written in a commendably readable style.

The parts of the book that IP Draughts found least satisfactory are written by academics. One chapter is written by an economist who ends her text by recommending a massive 28 “steps for successful knowledge transfer”. These range from the sensible (“assure that academics do not act outside the law when collaborating with business”), through the obscure (“expand existing Memoranda of Understanding and ensure knowledge transfers”) to the pie-in-the-sky (“ensure royalties are not subject to taxation”).  This chapter refers to other work by the author, and it is possible that these steps are explained and justified more fully in those other works.

Another chapter is written by an academic who was one of the drafters of Who Owns Science? The Manchester Manifesto, a document that identifies problems with the intellectual property system in relation to academic research.  The author of this chapter considers that there is too much of a focus on patents in universities.  While this is a perfectly respectable position to take (and it is useful that the book includes an alternative point of view), IP Draughts was puzzled by some of the statements in this chapter, eg: “TTOs [technology transfer offices] and academic management should listen and respond to the needs of academics in order to ensure that they do not unnecessarily complicate or delay future academic use of results”.

Quite what this is driving at, other than a general wish to have TTOs act in accordance with academics’ instructions rather than those of the university’s senior management, and not to bother academics when they don’t want to be bothered, is not clear to this reviewer.  As Alex Weedon points out in his chapter, “most [TTOs] survive on invention disclosures from less than 15% of academic staff…”  TTOs tend to be reactive, dealing with projects that academics bring to them.  The academics who don’t want to engage with technology transfer usually have no need to do so.

The final chapter, written by Graham Richards, includes some brief recommendations: for universities to have appropriate IP policies; for government to encourage a standard approach on IP ownership and financial deal terms; and for TTOs to share facilities and collaborate on best practice.  Strikingly, this chapter refers several times in a few, short paragraphs to the need for standard agreements.  IP Draughts and his colleagues at Anderson Law have been involved in several initiatives in this area, including the Lambert Agreements and several publications that include template agreements (some of which are noted by Alex Weedon at the end of his chapter under the heading “Recommended Reading”).

The book provides a lively discussion of the most important topics in university IP and knowledge transfer, and is highly recommended for anyone wanting an introduction to these subjects.  It is crammed full of views and ideas, many of which are very briefly stated, and some of which IP Draughts disagrees with, but this book is not meant to be a rigorous statement of truth.  Rather, it introduces the reader to current issues and gives the views a group of experienced practitioners on those issues, views that should be taken seriously.  The treatment is light enough to make the book suitable for reading in a Kindle edition, which the publishers have made available.

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Filed under Book review, Intellectual Property

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