Memorandum submitted by the University
The University of York undertakes research both
with EPSRC funding and in collaboration with industry in several
disciplines within the engineering and physical sciences remit,
including Computer Science, Electronic Engineering, Chemistry
and Physics. While we are unable to comment directly on the manner
in which companies decide on developing new products and processes
and the factors influencing their decisions, our comments are
based on our experiences as both a partner in research and a licensor
of technology deriving from EPSRC sponsored and other research.
As Government-funded research, particularly
that funded through the EPSRC, becomes more focused on application,
and on Foresight priorities, it is now commonplace for applications
for such funding to include reference to, and often active participation
by, industrial companies. Although we are still working in areas
driven largely by academic curiosity which, as well as resulting
in academic publication and development of new knowledge, can
from time to time result in new technology for which the University
has no potential end-user in view, it is our perception that academic
researchers are becoming far more aware of potential commercial
applications than they have been in the past. It can nevertheless
still be difficult for universities, who are still seen as supply
driven, to find suitable licensees for their technology, especially
among British owned companies.
There is quite a large number of Government
schemes, (very large if you include EU schemes) designed to promote
collaboration in and industrial application of research. We find
that the plethora of schemes is seen as confusing by industry,
especially smaller companies and that the bureaucracy associated
with many of them can be off-putting. However, the Teaching Company
Scheme is particularly valuable for smaller companies and universities
Ownership of intellectual property remains an
area of potential tension in collaborative research and in some
ways it is harder to deal with in engineering fields than in other
areas of science, as there is a greater tendency in this sector
to rely on secret know-how and speed to market rather than patenting.
This can make it very difficult for the academic collaborators
as publication and the academic mission can be severely compromised.
The same would not apply to companies in the chemicals sector.
We recognise that industrial collaborators usually want exclusive
access to the results of research and we are quite willing to
accept this, on condition that provision for appropriate reward
to the university and the inventors can be negotiated in the event
that inventions provide significant benefits to the company, and
that reassignment of technology to the University can be secured
in the event of non-exploitation of the IPR.
Finance to support application of research and
innovation remains a big problem for both the university and the
companies that have spun out from the University. We are involved,
with partner universities in our region, in discussions with venture
funds and others in an effort to try to address the "development
gap", and we look forward to seeing further details of the
recently announced University Challenge in the hope that it will
address this problem. SMART awards are a useful source of funding
for small projects, but are not appropriate in all cases.
The Research Council has adhered to its policy
of requiring University recipients of its research grants to be
responsible for the exploitation of resulting technology, but
in the past it has done very little to support the activity itself.
Its latest initiative, the establishment of four Faraday Centres,
promises to be a fruitful medium for technology transfer between
universities and British based companies. It could also be argued
that the Realising Our Potential Awards, rewarding as they do
academics who participate in collaborative research with industry,
is another indirect way of fostering technology transfer. However,
its biggest contribution is clearly the CASE and Industrial CASE
studentship schemes, which facilitate doctoral training with at
least some relevance to industrial needs, including people exchange
and placements of students in industry.
23 April 1999