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University Intellectual Property

Cover of  by Graham Richards

Universities are increasingly looking to exploit the intellectual property created by their researchers both to meet the expectations of governments and to search for new sources of income. In this new book Professor Graham Richards, who retired from Oxford University in 2008 where he was Head of Chemistry, and has worked with spin-out companies since 1988, investigates the key issues surrounding intellectual property in a higher education setting.

In the book he draws on his own experience as a founder of spin-out companies and a director of Oxford?s technology transfer company, Isis Innovation Ltd, for 20 years, and the views of a range of experts ? including a former high court judge, a senior lawyer, and a patent attorney ? to look at how technology transfer can be made more effective and efficient.

Books asked Professor Richards about his findings:

What is intellectual property and why is it so important?
Intellectual property includes patents on inventions and copyright, but for universities it is the patents on research discoveries which are overwhelming the most significant. In rare cases such patents can be worth many millions or even billions of pounds.

How have attitudes to who should own IP changed over the past few decades?
There was a complete change in the ownership of patents on work done in universities in 1987 when Mrs Thatcher decreed that work done in universities funded by the Government (which means most research) should belong to the university provided they set up a mechanism to exploit it. Oxford set up Isis Innovation. The motivation was that Britain had given away a number of vital inventions: monoclonal antibodies and although there were special circumstances, radar the jet engine and penicillin.

What have proved to be the most effective ways of exploiting IP generated in universities?
Universities have set up Technology Transfer Offices, in Oxford's case Isis Innovation.

What more can government and other bodies do to help turn good IP into good business?
We need to educate both academics and students about the means of protecting and exploiting their work. Having more standardised agreements and systems of financial reward would help when industry has to deal with more than one university on a particular invention.

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