Indeed, the possibility that untold wealth might be buried in university laboratories is prompting many public research institutions to liven up their laboratory practices and encourage on-campus entrepreneurialism as a possible source of extra revenue.
According to Turning Science into Business: Patenting and Licensing at Public Research Organisations, an increasing number of universities and public research organisations are incorporating measures to ensure that intellectual property innovations are patented and licensed for maximum commercial value. But making laboratories more business-like means not only actively promoting faculty and student research, but also determining how best to pursue any relationship with business clients while protecting the public interest.
Turning Science into Business examines legal and regulatory frameworks in 13 countries that have been developed for commercialising intellectual property arising from publicly-funded research. Across the OECD area and beyond, countries such as Germany and Korea are emulating the US Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 that gave universities the right to patent and earn revenue from licensing to outside firms. One finding is that legislative action is not the only way to promote the protection and exploitation of intellectual property, nor is it sufficient to get researchers to become inventors. Providing researchers with clear rules and allowing them to benefit from commercialisation activities are just as important.
With results from the first international survey on patenting and licensing at public research organisations, Turning Science into Business also provides key data on the amount of patented inventions and new start-ups originating from universities and public labs in several OECD countries. The study points to enormous variations in terms of the revenues obtained from licensing, with US universities the profit leaders, pocketing more than $1.2 billion each year, although income from licensing academic inventions remains small in comparison to overall research budgets
After surveying differences in national laws and in patenting activity, Turning Science into Business presents a series of country case studies illustrating the policy stories behind the figures. While legal frameworks have sprung up to help, more progress will come with a change in the business culture and mindset of the researchers themselves.
©OECD Observer No 237, May 2003