General information on the United Kingdom can be found at Wikipedia:United Kingdom.
General Principles of Technology Transfer at UK universitiesEdit
In the UK universities generally own the IP generated by their academics. However, until the 1980’s they were obliged to use the services of a national body, the ‘National Research and Development Corporation’ (NRDC) to patent and license technologies – an arrangement that worked badly and was scrapped after a particularly embarrassing episode concerning the decision by the NRDC not to patent monoclonal antibody technology.
Nowadays universities are able to undertake the full range of technology commercialisation activities in their own name and most have their own Technology Transfer units. Different universities structure their TTOs in different ways - some as divisions of the university, others as wholly-owned subsidiaries. One or two have even gone semi-private, selling a part of themselves to a third party investor.
Public Funding Agencies for Research and InnovationEdit
Until the late 1990’s Technology Transfer activities were funded entirely by the home university – though the Government (our Department of Trade and Industry, DTI) exhorted universities to play a greater direct role in exploiting research they (the DTI) gave universities very little ring-fenced cash to do so. consequently most tech Transfer units were quite small and under-funded.
Then, in 1997 a new (labour) Government came to power and things changed – largely as a result of the new (and still) Minister for Science, Lord David Sainsbury. A number of innovative schemes were rolled out:
1998: University Challenge Seed Funds – under which the Government sought bids to establish a number of university-based early stage seed funds – for every £1m the university contributed the Government gave £3m – to a maximum Fund size of £4m.
1999: Science Enterprise Centres – a competition to establish ‘Entrepreneurship Centres’ to develop and engage management expertise – typically £1m - £4m in size.
2000: Reach Out Funds (HEROBC) – a competition to apply for funding to establish ‘business-facing’ units within universities – typically £1m over two years.
2002, 2004, 2006: Further (and steadily increasing) rounds of the same fund, now re-christened the ‘Higher Education Innovation Fund’ (HEIF)
This massive influx of funds has dramatically changed the technology commercialisation landscape. In addition to technology Transfer Offices there now exist even large (10 – 20 person) Business Development Offices in most universities. HEIF has also funded other initiatives such as the pump-priming of new offices (e.g. training, consultancy) new regional networking activities and Proof-of-Concept (PoC) Funds.
Pure Technology Transfer has also risen in importance. The establishment of the Seed Funds co-incided with the ‘technology bubble’ of the late 1990’s and together resulted in a major emphasis on creating spin-out companies (as opposed to licensing). Whereas the social impact of these companies has been significant, with few exceptions the financial returns to universities have suffered as a result of successive ‘down-rounds’ and dilutions. As a result the sector is now far more sanguine about spin-outs and is finding a better balance with pure licensing. This issue was highlighted in another Government report, ‘The Lambert Report’ in late 2003 highlighted (and bemoaned) the tendency to emphasise spin-outs at the expense of licensing.
Offices of Technology Transfer from Public Research OrganisationsEdit
A full listing of Technology Transfer Offices in the UK can be found on the UNICO website.
Technology Transfer Surveys or PapersEdit
The UK runs two Annual surveys of Technology Transfer Activities:
- The first is run by UNICO, 'by the members for the members', in very much the same spirit as the AUTM survey (however the results are aggregated, not by institution).
- The second is run by the body that funds universities in England, 'HEFCE'. The results are given by institution. The survey results are public domain and can be viewed at http://www.hefce.ac.uk.
National Associations Edit
The UK has two national associations that network together those involved in university commercial activities:
- UNICO that networks all those in the field of Technology Transfer (its main emphases being spin-out companies, technology transfer, and business development). UNICO holds two member conferences a year, runs an annual Tech Transfer survey and hosts a thriving email discussion group.
- AURIL, which focuses more on collaborative research, consultancy and industry liaison.
The UK also has its own Technology Transfer Training Programme, Praxis which is run by senior Technology Transfer practitioners.