English Universities – Sharing the Knowledge
Tomorrow I will be a member of a panel at Westminster Higher Education Forum in Whitehall. The topic for the panel is “Universities as drivers of regional growth – tackling barriers to university-business collaboration, increasing spin-outs and the introduction of the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF)” and this has made me think about these challenges in more depth.
As a member of the Greater Lincolnshire LEP Innovation Council and a provider of services to universities, particularly supporting grant applications, I have frequent cause to read The Industrial Strategy and apply the information contained within to different strategies.
When considering Knowledge Exchange it is not sufficient to consider the potential impact of innovations and research for the local economy and publication of research findings. The Industrial Strategy clearly identifies universities as a significant national asset in the drive to build a more competitive, thriving economy after Brexit.
However as stated by Martin Wolfe, associate editor and chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, in his article “Let Knowledge Spread Around the World” – “Knowledge is somewhat paradoxical. It is most productive when freely available. But the incentive to create it depends on the ability to restrict its use. The former consideration justifies dissemination. The later Justifies control.”
Strategies to encourage Knowledge Exchange and collaboration include recent awards from Research England Connecting Capabilities Fund and the Knowledge Exchange Framework. These are great initiatives, but Intellectual Property can represent significant financial value, and long-term revenue for universities and academics. To increase access to this IP across the research sector and commercial organisations, perhaps the government should address the elephant in the room. Cost-effective legal protection for the potential financial value of IP.
Before considering supporting innovations to reach commercial viability universities have to weigh-up the cost of IP protection. Before sharing IP, all parties involved could spend considerable time and money in negotiating the long-term incoming generation and sharing percentages for each party, and how these are to be measured. All of this is often before the underlying innovation , or the collaborative proposition has started to generate revenue or prove commercial viability. In other words universities are forced to gamble this investment to protect a potentially long-term revenue stream which is as yet unproven. This hinders innovation, puts additional obstacles in the way of potential new products, and stops development of new ideas in very early stages before they can prove their potential.
I would welcome your comments.