New Model for Best Practice Commercialisation Policy

A new model developed jointly by business and the tertiary sector to improve R&D returns and commercialisation policy for Australia’s universities was released today.

The Business Council of Australia and the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee study on building better systems to take university R&D to the market draws on local and international best practice to create the model.

The objective of the study is to promote a significant increase in R&D commercialisation in universities and provide a catalyst for Australia’s higher education sector to match the top 20 universities in the United States in terms of returns from commercialised R&D.

Business Council of Australia Board Member and CEO of Commonwealth Bank, Mr David Murray and Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee President, Professor Di Yerbury said they hoped the model would also prompt federal and state governments to position commercialisation of research as an explicit third role of universities, in addition to teaching and research.

Professor Yerbury said that an overt commitment by governments to policies and practices to support universities as R&D centres is a necessary prerequisite to universities having this explicit third role.

“A clear mandate in legislation and university constitutions for involvement in commercialisation is needed to increase the volume of commercialisation success stories and the spin-off benefits for the economy,” she said.

The study cautions that best practice on its own will not deliver optimal results and changes in university frameworks would be needed in most cases.

Micro-oversight by external government departments and bureaucrats is clearly detrimental to universities’ capacity to bring new technology to the market and legislative reforms may be required to get the systems and processes right for commercialisation of university research, according to the study.

The study highlights that even at best practice levels, the higher education sector is unlikely to generate more than 10 per cent of its total research revenues from commercialisation. However, there is a major economic benefit through the activities of companies that successfully use the outcomes of publicly-funded R&D. This in turn creates a virtuous circle as these companies grow and re-invest in further research projects.

“Successful research commercialisation in Australian universities is characterised by a strong commitment by the Vice-Chancellor, investment in a research commercialisation arm and access to an early stage investment fund, buy-in by university faculties and a strongly supportive culture,” Professor Yerbury said.

Lessons learnt in research commercialisation success stories from University of NSW, University of Queensland, ANU, University of Melbourne/Swinburne University of Technology and Flinders University form part of the Study.

Mr Murray said that there are a variety of experiences within the business community on the best way to partner with universities in research commercialisation.

“The legislative constraints on universities in assessing and managing risk in the area of commercialisation of intellectual property can mean opportunities are missed, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria.

“Timely decision-making within the university is important, as are clearly articulated and implemented intellectual property ownership policies and a full understanding on the part of researchers of how to deliver a marketable product,” he said.

The two organisations will be discussing the outcomes of the study within the private sector and with governments and hope to encourage a significant increase in R&D commercialisation success in Australia.

“Business can bring market expertise and resources but there needs to be a strong desire on the part of individual researchers and their universities to make it happen and systems in place to allow it to happen within a reasonable timeframe,” Mr Murray said.

BUILDING EFFECTIVE SYSTEMS FOR THE COMMERCIALISATION OF UNIVERSITY RESEARCH: A SUMMARY

Universities

  • Universities should have a clear mandate to engage in the commercialisation of research and this should be acknowledged as a legitimate third role for universities alongside teaching and research.
  • Universities need to be producing excellent research, as it is excellent research that is most likely to generate the most significant commercialisation opportunities, and need to publicise their research capabilities.
  • Universities need to be undertaking research in areas that fit with the interests of business.
  • Universities should exercise their IP ownership rights, ensure IP ownership is clear and take appropriate steps to protect IP.
  • Universities wishing to effectively commercialise should empower a central commercialisation entity to manage the commercialisation of university research. These commercialisation entities must be appropriately resourced to allow them to:

– identify and protect IP;

– pro-actively identify commercialisation options;

– disseminate information regarding research activities to business;

– fund the further development of research to the point at which it is commercialisation ready;

– negotiate deals; and

– manage risk.

  • University councils should not be involved in the micro-oversight of commercialisation activities.
  • University governing councils and senior management should be committed to developing a culture, and systems for the reward and recognition of staff, that encourages commercialisation activity.

Business

  • Business should identify need for innovation and options to achieve this.
  • Business should be able to engage with universities to pursue commercialisation opportunities where the university research is aligned to their product and service areas.
  • Business should recognise that universities can access global markets for IP if local business is unable to use it.

 Finance providers

  • Venture capitalists must have both the capital and the expertise to allow them to add value to the formation and development of companies built around university generated IP.
  • Venture capitalists should be able to provide soundly based judgements of the risk-return profile of business propositions.

Government

  • Government research funding programs should provide incentives for universities to engage in commercialisation of research, support universities in establishing appropriate IP and commercialisation management systems, including where necessary to help build  ‘critical mass’ in commercialisation bodies shared between groups of universities where appropriate.
  • State and/or Commonwealth governments should not be involved in the micro-oversight of commercialisation activities.
  • Commonwealth and sate governments should continue to address gaps on the market for early stage capital for growing technology-based businesses.
  • Government policies and legislation should not impede university participation in commercialisation of research.

Building Effective Systems for the Commercialisation of University Research