Commercialisation of IP of critical importance

THE government’s long-awaited intellectual property reforms have been held up as instrumental to creating a better environment for innovation. But they are peripheral to what universities are most in need of right now.

Commercialisation has long been considered a nice to have, rather than a must have, for academia.

While he quality of university research is outstanding _ Australia was amongst the top 10 countries for quality research institutes in 2010, according to the World Economic Forum. But if we can’t point to the social impact of that research, it will become even more difficult to attract government funding, inevitably eroding research quality. It’s a vicious circle: no outcome, no funding, no funding, no outcome.

Intellectual property is the main trading commodity of universities: the way they teach, what they teach, their research methods and outcomes, so the proper management of that IP is vital. And now more than ever, commercialising it is critical.

 Universities can be significant providers of solutions to some of our most wicked problems, but it is important they have the resources to be in a position to do this and that their role as organisations which drive improvement in many industries and society in general is affirmed.

We simply can’t afford not to make commercialisation of university innovations a national priority.

It is no coincidence that universities with a strong commercialisation history have teams of professional staff whose only job is to generate outcomes. It is difficult to expect researchers to play that role. They’ve got enough on their plate identifying areas to research, finding funding, performing research and publishing findings without having to think how to commercialise it all.

The commercialisation office of the University of Melbourne, UoM Commercial, is a good example. UoM Commercial employs a large team who work with researchers and facilitates to generate the commercial transfer of intellectual property.

Also universities can’t do it on their own. The recent Australian Innovation Systems Report 2011 showed Australia collaboration ranks extremely poorly compared to other OECD nations. Universities need to encourage long-term relationships with industry, other research institutions and alumni which are focused on mutual benefit.
Ultimately, if we want to increase the impact of university innovation, we need more discussion and debate on how to make it happen.

Reforms currently on the table will help bring the Australian intellectual property system up to par with other systems around the world. However, universities require more than just law reform to increase their role in the innovation ecosystem.

Dr Jason Coonan is a member of the Victorian Management Committee of the Licensing Executives Society Australia & New Zealand.

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