Australian universities are being encouraged to make their intellectual property available for free, after the University of NSW said it will offer IP licences to entrepreneurs at no charge.
In a bid to stimulate the take-up of technology, UNSW will offer IP licences for a range of ideas and research results to entrepreneurs and companies at no cost.
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Licences will need to disclose how the information will be commercialised. If it is not exploited within three years, the university will reclaim the rights to use the information.
UNSW also will hold on to any IP it thinks it can commercialise successfully.
Les Field, UNSW deputy vice-chancellor for research, says the initiative, known as Easy Access IP, says private companies are better equipped to apply research to new products and services.
“This is quite a radical departure from the way that UNSW and most universities have been doing business,” Field told The Australian Financial Review.
Six pieces of IP will initially be available through Easy Access IP. But Kevin Cullen, who created Easy Access IP at the University of Glasgow, says the range of IP will quickly expand.
Dr Cullen now heads up UNSW commercialisation company New South Innovations.
“We typically, as a university, get of the order of 120 inventions a year. We would anticipate that up to 80% of those might eventually go down the Easy Access IP route,” Cullen says.
Entrepreneur Guy Sewell, who is in the process of commercialising research from Finders University in South Australia, says he likes the sound of making university IP available for free.
“It was a real challenge for me [to take IP from the university]. I ended up consulting the technology transfer office. Would I go through that process again? I don’t know,” Sewell says.
“Universities are a government organisation so things are slow. As an entrepreneur, you want to grab hold of something and run with it from day one.”
“The processes they have internally aren’t matched to doing things as rapidly as an entrepreneur might like.”
Sewell says entrepreneurs should “negotiate hard” with regard to ownership of university IP, saying he wouldn’t risk anything for, say, a two-year ownership of the licence.
“[However,] universities are a wonderful breeding ground for ideas. If you are commercially-minded, there’s no shortage of good ideas. What UNSW has done is very smart,” he says.
But it doesn’t look like other Australian universities will be following UNSW’s lead anytime soon.
A spokesperson for the University of Melbourne says the university has no such plans, but will continue to ensure “as much university-generated IP as possible” is able to be commercialised.
“We are always open to fresh approaches to the changing market environment,” the spokesperson says.
“Of course, as a university, we already make the vast majority of our intellectual property freely available to the world through publication in academic journals.”