The Government has recently published its response to the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee's March 2013 report "Bridging the valley of death: improving the commercialisation of research".
The Government begins its response with a warm endorsement of the Committee's view that future measures aimed at improving the UK innovation and commercialisation landscape should not be made at the expense of funding for the UK research base. It also restates its commitments to encouraging research that will have a real impact and to supporting universities, researchers and businesses to work more closely together.
Some of the themes covered in the response include:
Business Access to Universities
A concern raised by the Committee was smaller businesses' lack of access to large scale testing and experimental production facilities. The Government reply points to several schemes which aim to provide such access, including the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and Research Councils' support of university based Innovation and Knowledge Centres. The TSB will also be looking more widely into the issue of how businesses can be assisted in accessing other university facilities.
The Government also highlights investment provided through the TSB, such as Innovation Vouchers, which provide companies access to £5,000 worth of advice and expertise. The vouchers can be used to acess skills and equipment in universities and other research organisations.
Easy Access IP review
The Committee also recommended that the Government review the Easy Access IP experiment to assess whether it improves the flow of IP not just between universities, but also into UK wealth creation activities.
The Government notes that BIS has asked the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) to assess the contribution of Easy Access IP and other innovative IP management approaches which are aimed at speeding the application and commercialisation of IP from HEIs.
IP transfer- secure funding
Another concern raised by the Committee was the possibility that changes to the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) might prompt further decrease in IP transfer from universities which have been less successful in commercialising their IP.
The Government's view is that there is no evidence to show that significant marketable IP opportunities will be lost from institutions which secure lower HEIF allocations. The Government's position is that HEIF not only rewards institutions for commercialising their IP, but also for collaborative research, contract research and for providing access to infrastructure and equipment and for career and professional development training (with double reward for engagement with SMEs).
The response also observes that institutions are able to apply for project funding from HEFCE or through TSB schemes to support their IP commercialisation.
The Government has also agreed with the recommendation that the TSB reviews the current provision for "proof of concept" funding to universities and small companies.
Other observations on the role of universities
The Government response acknowledges universities' crucial role in contributing to the UK innovation ecosystem. It also believes that HEIs have been securing more people from the private sector (more than three times the number of academics joining the private sector from academia). It suggests that for the majority of businesses the need to engage with universities should be driven by business need.
What can universities do?
Much of the response highlights that businesses (particularly smaller businesses) may be unaware of how they can access university facilities and expertise. For universities hoping to attract businesses to use their facilities, this represents an opportunity to review how these opportunities are promoted to the business community. Providing such access may also assist in commercialising universities' IP and may provide further funding opportunities.