Urgent action on research commercialisation needed

27 Jul 2004

Technology industry lobby group ICT Ireland has issued a critical report calling on the Government to create an environment for the successful commercialisation of third level research.

The measures proposed in the document produced by ICT Ireland’s sub-committee on intellectual property management include: the creation of an intellectual property management and commercialisation centre of excellence for the ICT sector; financial incentives to encourage near-to-market and industry-led research and development; revised remuneration, promotion and incentive structures for researchers in third level institutes to encourage commercialisation of IP; and a programme to educate researchers about intellectual property management issues.

Brian Caulfield, investment director of Trinity Venture Capital and chairman of the ICT Ireland sub-committee on IP management, noted Ireland’s poor track record of spinning out companies to exploit R&D developed in third level institutions and the low level of participation by third level institutes in joint level research products with industry.

A survey of ICT Ireland members showed that in those companies developing intellectual property through some form of co-operation, only 25pc are working with Irish third level institutes and almost as many (16pc) are working with foreign institutions in spite of the additional cost this imposes. The survey also revealed that many companies were strongly critical of long time scales and the lack of a commercial mindset within third level institutes.

Brendan Cremen, director of engineering of Xilinx Ireland and vice-chairman of the ICT Ireland sub-committee on IP management, said there is a great opportunity for generating new ICT start-ups and high-value jobs but this will require a culture of exploiting the inherent value in IP rather than simply protecting it. He felt there is an opportunity to copperfasten the presence in Ireland of major ICT multinationals by developing stronger links between them and Irish third level institutions.

ICT Ireland also called for a revision of the ICSTI ‘Code of Practice for the Management of IP arising from Fully State-funded R&D’ published earlier this year. The lobby group said that the code put too much emphasis on the protection of state-funded R&D and too little on the commercialisation of this research.

The new report from ICT Ireland echoes concerns that have been expressed by other key agencies and pressure groups in the past few months. In its submission to the Enterprise Strategy Group in February, the National Competitiveness Council called for a detailed review of the barriers to IP commercialisation. Its chairman, William Burgess, felt that the creation of more jointly funded projects would act as a magnet for new R&D investments. The Irish Software Association has also been vocal on the issue, calling it “one of the most important and challenging facing the Irish software industry.” Just yesterday, a report by the Higher Education Authority on research funding urged universities to strengthen their technology transfer mechanisms.

Responding to the ICT Ireland report, Dr Conor O’Carroll, head of research at the Conference of Heads of Irish Universities (CHIU), said that for commercialisation to be a weak area should come as no surprise.

“The prime goal of research in universities has traditionally not been to commercialise it and very few resources have been available to do that. Technology transfer initiatives are very understaffed so it’s not surprising there hasn’t been a focus,” he told siliconrepublic.com.

“But this is changing and universities welcome this change. With all the money going into research one wants to be a position where one can exploit that in the best possible way.”

O’Connor added that universities were in discussions as to how to cost efficiently fund technology transfer initiatives, such as by jointly funding legal services.

He also claimed that universities were beginning to embrace business values to a greater extent. “It’s a question of bringing a culture of entrepreneurship into the universities and that needs to begin at student level. At doctorate and masters levels it’s already starting to happen.”

By Brian Skelly