University Of Glasgow Frees Up Research Instead Of Trying To Sell It All

from the good-for-them dept

We've pointed out how badly many universities have fallen for the myth of magical profits from tech transfer efforts. In the last 30 years or so, there's been this massive effort for some universities to try to profit off of "commercializing" their research. What they did was set up expensive "tech transfer" offices that were in charge of taking university research, patenting it, and then trying to find buyers. The theory, then, was that the university would make lots of money and companies would get access to all this great university research. The reality is that this hasn't worked out at all. First of all, that whole theory skipped over the part that prior to locking up all that research, companies already had access to it -- and were able to actually make use of it quickly because they didn't have to go through a crazy and expensive licensing process.

The other problem is that, since these tech transfer offices are focused on making money, and all they have to sell is patents, they started to overvalue the patents themselves, making them prohibitively expensive, which actually decreased the ability to get those ideas out to the commercial sector and to turn that research into big money. And, did we mention how expensive it is to set up and run some of these tech transfer offices? A study from a few years back found that the majority of tech transfer offices lost money, with only a tiny handful (somewhere around a dozen) actually making money.

Oh, and on top of all that, this focus on putting up locks for the sake of charging has actually made basic research much harder as well, since much of it is based on freely sharing ideas -- which is made more difficult when you want to hoard the idea in order to get a patent.

At some point, you would think universities would recognize this. They're losing money, harming their own research and going against their basic principles as institutions for disseminating knowledge. Thankfully, some are finally starting to get the message. James Boyle points us to the news that the University of Glasgow has announced that it will be offering up most of its research under a free license. It is still reserving a few "key" bits of research for fee-based licensing, but it appears the default will now be free, which seems like it should be a good thing in terms of actually commercializing the research out of the university.

Filed Under: free, licensing, research, tech transfer, universities
Companies: university of glasgow

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Dec 2010 @ 10:17am

    Sure we'll comment! This article has numerous half-truths and makes assumptions based on, I guess, no data. First, it is not expensive to set up and run a Tech Transfer Office. These offices are chronically underfunded and understaffed, with huge IP portfolios they do their best to handle effectively. Compared with the tens and hundreds of millions in research expenses at most universities, the cost to operate the TTOs is a mere pittance.

    Second, the studies showing that TTOs don't make profits do not take into account the total licensing revenues generated by tech transfer activity, only the small share returned to the TTOs for operating expenses. If the true licensing revenues were included, virtually all TTOs would be "profitable" beyond any CEO's dreams. Second to that, the TTO's charter and mission typically is not focused on profit, but on the widest dissemination of innovations to the public as possible.

    As to "overvaluing," what is that statement based on, if anything? IP and patents are valued by the marketplace.

    The biggest fallacy is the statement "all TTOs have to sell are patents." Most of the world's innovations and great strides in all fields of science emanate from university labs. Our country's economy depends heavily on these innovations, which drive not only business growth but improvements in the health and welfare of our citizens and people throughout the world.

    It's easy to take pot shots at hard-working professionals whose intentions are honorable and who work their hardest to advance valuable discoveries that will benefit the public. The fact is that Bayh-Dole was brilliant legislation that has made the U.S. the envy of the world in our ability to innovate and drive our economy forward.

    That the licensing of university research exists within a capitalist society, where profits do motivate companies to invest in research and patented discoveries is not, in my opinion, deserving of such mockery.

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