Firms may get IP funding help

Companies looking to commercialise their intellectual property could get some financial help from government if a new research paper carries any weight.

Companies looking to commercialise their intellectual property could get some financial help from government if a new research paper carries any weight.

The government is finalising its policy on intellectual property developed in the course of research projects with the help of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST) and other agencies.

FRST, which along with the Health Research Council and the Royal Society are the government’s research science and technology “purchase agents”, commissioned a survey to evaluate patenting behaviour amongst the providers. Seven crown research institutes (CRIs), five universities and two industrial research organisations were asked how they manage and commercialise IP, about the increasing number of patent applications, and how the government could improve its funding policies.

The issue has come under the spotlight as the government attempts to understand what IP it owns and how best to negotiate commercialisation with the ICT industry.

The FRST study says its findings “support the case for partial funding of IP protection (especially patenting) costs amongst research providers”. However, this can only happen if patents are removed as a criterion in evaluating research capability and the quality of funding proposals.

The study notes some potentially incendiary comments from research organisations. It reports the paraphrased comment of one CRI: “The government’s policy framework for CRIs is forcing them to become ‘schizophrenic beasts in the delivery of government outcomes’. The direction to become risk-taking, entrepreneurial instititutions is at odds with conservative central controls (CCMAU). The Crown Entities Bill [changing governance and accountability] may exacerbate this.”

Comments, which were collected without attribution, were divided into two groups: CRIs and universities, Fonterra and Wool Research. The second group were no more restrained, claiming a serious lack of both “technology transfer professionals” and medium-sized private partners in New Zealand. One response, presumably from a university (Auckland, Waikato, Canterbury, Otago or Victoria), said that expecting serious innovation to occur as a by-product of university teaching was naive and this could only be achieved by better funding and a clear directive.

Survey author David Webber notes that “there is uncertainty, and some resistance, around the protection of valuable IP as opposed to disseminating the fruits of research”. A purely commercial approach to IP ownership and exploitation can be seen as at odds with the wider purpose of universities and other public research organisations. Commercial entities devoted to IP management created by universities and CRIs have had mixed success, the report says.

Webber found that acknowledgement of the importance of IP is improving but the quality of IP policies is highly variable. Effective patenting takes money and time, and, in any case, simply counting patent numbers is no guarantee of innovation.

Attempts to contact representatives of the ITCX group, which is investigating the commercialisation of government IT, were unsuccessful.

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