Pooling research IP for the common good

research pool

Research pool

As regular readers will know, IP Draughts is trying to get a new project off the ground. He has drafted a funding proposal for a research centre into IP, innovation and international commerce. In the last few weeks he has received comments from a range of people on the drafts. With some simplification, those comments fall into various categories:

  1. This is a worthwhile venture and I hope it succeeds. It is great to get these comments, mostly from people in the technology transfer community. They confirm that IP Draughts is not alone in thinking we need a research centre of this kind. But he isn’t complacent about them. There is a huge gap between some people thinking it is a good idea, and getting this unusual flying fortress into the air.
  2. You need to write a better proposal. Fair enough, this is the first time IP Draughts has written this kind of document, and he appreciates being taught how to do better. He has taken many of these comments on board, and thinks the latest draft of the proposal is much improved. A comment from several people was that the proposal should give examples of problems that arose from an imperfect legal system, and examples of other research projects tackling these problems. Giving examples is difficult, in light of client confidentiality, and probably none of the examples will sound dramatically bad to a non-specialist. But he will try to develop some. And as far as IP Draughts is aware, no-one else has made a similar proposal. In the context of trying to persuade a sceptical audience, does this amount to “first mover disadvantage”?
  3. It may be difficult to find funding. Talk to X, Y and Z. IP Draughts will try to speak to all or most of the people suggested, once has built some momentum, and ensured the proposal is good enough for public consumption. He realises he has probably wasted one or two conversations, by having them too early.
  4. Law faculties don’t do this stuff. There are two components to this comment. First, that UK law faculties are focused on generating revenue from undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. Research papers are mostly written by individual academics and tend to be quite “academic”. Law faculties don’t have a tradition of large research teams tackling big, societal problems. Secondly, that IP Draughts is not a career academic, and law faculties don’t have a tradition of allowing visiting professors to run large projects. IP Draughts doesn’t know what the answer to these problems is, but he thinks he should secure some funding first, before tackling this hurdle.

Countering these negative thoughts have been some really inspiring comments, including this one from a senior professor in a science subject:

“This is a worthwhile initiative… I know Mark and he certainly has the energy to make this happen.”

An interesting suggestion came from another reviewer. He pointed IP Draughts to the Medicines Patent Pool, which is focused on making HIV drugs available in developing countries. He thought there might well be interest in developing some standard approaches to IP licensing in collaborative research projects, and in particular:

“how to create IP-sharing ecosystems that both protect the IP-owners’ interests but in certain cases allow use of the IP for further development”

This is an important issue, and one that would benefit from practitioners’ insights. If only we had the centre up and running, we could develop a workstream to investigate this issue!

As well as this policy initiative, there is also a potential workstream to develop standard licensing terms to accompany such an initiative. Looking at the agreements that can be found at the link above, it strikes IP Draughts how many person-hours must have been spent in negotiating each of those bespoke agreements. Many of them appear to use US-style contract language but in most cases the parties have agreed English law, and a three-person ICC arbitration of disputes. All very heavyweight, perhaps unnecessarily so.

IP Draughts hopes that if he keeps plugging away, solutions will emerge. He certainly hopes so.

Podcast of this article here.

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