Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 74

Memorandum submitted by the University of York

INTRODUCTION

  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.

GOVERNMENT FUNDED 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.

GOVERNMENT SCHEMES DESIGNED TO PROMOTE COLLABORATION

  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 alike.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY (IPR)

  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 ENTERPRISES INVOLVED IN THE APPLICATION OF RESEARCH AND INNOVATION

  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.

ROLE OF THE ENGINEERING AND PHYSICAL SCIENCES RESEARCH COUNCIL IN FOSTERING TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER

  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


 
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