Bristol opens up to innovation

“I have spent 10 years telling my VC that  he is not going to make money out of IP,” said Neil Bradshaw, Director of Enterprise at the University of Bristol who is responsible for commercialising the research from the university. “IP as a standalone concept is a difficult concept – you need the knowhow and that in the heads of the people that developed it.”

The deal has met with approval from patent lawyers also in the region, as the IP will still be protected but there will be wider distribution, and will ideally generate more IP through collaboration with industry. “IP patents are important but for universities they are not about making money,” said Bradshaw. “Instead we have a long term interest in collaborating with the companies that want to make this happen, and we also want a debate on how to get this interface working better within industry.”

Bristol is working with Glasgow and Kings College, London on a network for such ‘open innovation’.

“We are talking about tangible IP, things that are in the patent process,” he said. “We spend a lot of time putting deals together that have no value to either party, and what we should do is sweep the final negotiations out of the way and target a very simple process that allows us to give the rights to the company free of charge. We are willing to give away the little things of value as we value the collaboration with industry over the effort to generate £20,000 of royalty income.”

The deals will cover research that has been patented so that the universities can offer a three year exclusive license. “There are some obligations on the company,” said Bradshaw. “They have to do something with it for three years, otherwise the rights revert back to the university, and acknowledge the fact that the IP was derived from working with the university – we are not a private research institute,” he said. Keeping hold of the rights is important, he says.“The last thing we want is patent trolls or parking the patents.”

“We are putting together a repository of IP and my view is that 90% of the IP [from the university] may well go that route,” said Bradshaw, and there is wide support from both the research councils and the government for this approach.

“The EPSRC are enthusiastic about this as they want to see the work they are funding have an impact in the outside world,” he said, “and the government has reconfirmed that it will continue to invest in this areas and we will use that additional funding to cover these costs.”

The deal will not cover all IP, particularly block buster drugs, but will include complex biotech agreements such as materials transfer.

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