Easy Access IP – burning myths not bridges

Guest post from Rosa Fernandez, head of research at the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB)

Intellectual property are knowledge assets that both universities and business create, but to own and manage these assets they require legal rights.

When most people think of IP they think of the rights that attribute ownership rather than of the knowledge content of the asset. Intellectual property rights typically take the form of a document, such as patents or copyrights, that describes the knowledge content and attributes ownership of the asset.

The rightful owner (person, institution or firm) of this asset can then trade access to the knowledge content, often for money, using licence agreements. Easy Access IP offers a simplified one-page licence agreement for universities to release some of their owned IP for free, to put it to the best use possible. 

Before today’s NCUB report on progress in the take-up of Easy Access IP, “one-page licence” and “for free” were the two memorable things that had resonated about the scheme. After today, we hope there will be a broader understanding that:

  •  Rights over intellectual property are just the visible tip of the iceberg of knowledge assets in universities (and in business).
  • Not all knowledge assets are the same.
  • A single right of ownership or type of use would not maximise the value of every asset, neither for the owner nor for society.
  • Universities (and business) release a lot of knowledge “for free”, including knowledge assets such as publications, but also knowledge over which they have no documented rights such as informal advice or training received by students and employees.

Beyond quantifying progress in the take up of the specific 'one-page licence to release IP for free' understanding of Easy Access IP, today's report underlines the fact that there are many paths already in place for crossing 'the Valley of Death'; that is the funding gap that lies between an idea being deemed as fit for development (a patent is taken) and it being low risk enough for a firm to take it forward (a licence is bought).

Admittedly, more bridges need building - but not at the expense of burning others that are already in use. Not everyone needs to use the same bridge at the same time.

Easy Access IP paves one way for inventors to reach out to users of their ideas, particularly those users who want to test new ideas without having to commit to making them succeed. Sometimes inventors and users agree a commitment to success, and in this case sharing the profits through licensing works better than free access for both parties.

How do these mythical agreements come about? It is the role of knowledge asset managers, including technology transfer offices, to coordinate the growing portfolio of intellectual property in our research base and how it is released for exploitation. We worked with them for this report and reflect their views in it. These professionals work constantly to bring afloat the range of intellectual assets from the iceberg that sits underneath the IP rights tip and naturally they welcome new tools for this.

For the sector as a whole, interest in Easy Access IP has contributed to raised awareness of knowledge asset management and the challenges it presents. For NCUB, it is renewed evidence that university-business collaboration is principally mediated by people.