In November of last year, the University of Glasgow launched Easy Access IP, a radical new initiative which turns the traditional academic technology transfer model on its head. The new initiative is aimed at maximising the University’s dissemination of knowledge whilst fostering closer collaboration between the academic research base and industry. The basic concept is relatively simple:
and commits to giving regular reports to the University on its progress with this objective.
Since inception of the initiative 9 months ago, the University has received numerous enquiries from higher education institutions across the globe, keen to explore this alternative model. These discussions have led to the formation of a consortium with King’s College London and the University of Bristol to further develop the model with the intention of rolling it out to universities and academic institutions worldwide.
The consortium (known as the Easy Access Innovation Partnership) was among one of the winning entries in this year’s Fast Forward Competition held by the Intellectual Property Office. The £80,000 award is being invested in developing the Easy Access IP model. In doing so, the consortium’s core mission is to help remove the bureaucratic and financial obstacles which currently obstruct the translation of University-generated IP into commercial use. The model has recently been adopted by Copenhagen University, and other universities have stated (some publicly, others privately) that they are actively considering joining the consortium.
Given the aspirations behind the initiative, it is perhaps unsurprising that Easy Access IP has received wide acclaim from politicians, industry leaders and the media. A recent report by the Engineering & Manufacturing Taskforce, established last year by the Council for Industry and Higher Education, called on all UK universities to follow the University of Glasgow’s lead in pioneering new open forms of access to the fruits of university research rather than locking their knowledge away in patents that, more often than not, are commercially unsuccessful*. However, as is the norm with most radical departures from tradition, the initiative has also met with a dose of cynicism and some criticism. In the months following its inception, various forums have played host to a vigorous debate on the relative merits and demerits of universities opening their knowledge banks to industry for “free”.
Time for action
Action is imperative. As a relatively new alternative to traditional avenues of technology transfer, the success of Easy Access IP has yet to be seen. However, by making the licensing process simple and commercially attractive, the initiative is surely a step in the right direction.
For the universities involved in the initiative, the potential benefits are a better fulfilment of their mission to disseminate knowledge, greater access to impact data and the very real (if intangible) benefits of increased recognition and acknowledgment of their contribution to their local and national economies. By freeing up resources to spend more time on developing fewer opportunities, they can also become more effective in their traditional technology transfer activities. But perhaps most interestingly for those involved in the project, they get to be pioneers: they are developing a new model for technology transfer. The problems are well understood; the solutions are not.
Going down this route involves taking a risk and we need to give those who have been willing to think radically the freedom and space to develop these initiatives. May this new initiative live long and prosper!
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* Council for Industry and High Education (CIHE), 2011, “Powering Up: Business and Universities Collaborating for Manufacturing Competitiveness in the New Industrial Revolution”