Technology Transfer and Commercialisation of Intellectual Property

May 16, 2016

The Higher Education Business and Community Interaction survey has now been running for over 10 years, and it is interesting to see how technology transfer and commercialisation of intellectual property (IP) by UK universities has changed over the past decade. Commercialisation of IP by universities generally takes two forms: licensing the IP to external firms, or creating spin-out companies based on the IP.

In both cases, it is crucial to ensure that the IP is properly protected. For example, to successfully commercialise an inventive product or process it will usually be necessary to obtain a patent to prevent others from copying the invention.

Since patents are generally necessary for commercialisation of university inventions, the numbers of patents applied for and granted give a good indication of the growth of technology transfer activities. In 2013-2014 UK universities made 2,086 patent applications and had 976 patents granted, representing 60% and 110% increases (respectively) over 2003-2004. It’s clear that universities are increasingly looking to protect and commercialise their inventions.

Universities are also becoming increasingly successful at commercialising their IP. 975 IP-based university spin-outs were reported as having been active for 3 years or more in 2013-14, a 42% increase over 2003-2004. Intellectual property revenue from licensing and spin-outs accounted for over £131 million of income to UK universities in 2013-2014, representing a 120% increase in real terms from 2003-2004. Over three times more IP related income was received than was spent on IP protection by the sector as a whole.

On top of the direct income from licensing deals or spin-outs, IP commercialisation can be very valuable for securing research funding. The UK funding councils are keen to demonstrate the economic impact of the research they fund, so researchers with commercially valuable IP protection will stand out in the fight for funding. Patents can be used as research outputs in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and Researchfish and spin-outs are a great way to prove the economic impact of research. Research that has been patented is more attractive to industry and can therefore be valuable in securing industrial funding and partnerships.

It is critically important for spin-outs to consider IP protection in order to attract investment in a crowded and competitive environment. Spin-outs that already have IP protection should not rest on their laurels. It has been shown that a doubling of the size of a patent portfolio leads to a 24% extra increase in valuation over what would otherwise be expected.

To conclude, it’s clear that universities are increasingly seeking to commercialise their IP, and this commercialisation can be of tremendous value to the inventors, the university, and the wider economy.

Swindell & Pearson has successfully worked with a number of leading UK universities helping them to protect and commercialise their intellectual property rights. If you are a university and you’re interested in finding out how Swindell & Pearson can represent you, please get in touch with Christine Anglesea at [email protected]. Christine is an IP director and head of Swindell & Pearson’s university team. She has been successfully working with academics and tech transfer offices for over 10 years.