Unlike traditional universities which were associated with teaching and research as their primary functions, most of today’s universities also don the role of an entrepreneur or become a platform for entrepreneurial activity. The research output of university often translates into knowledge that results in the formation of products and services that are commercially viable. The IPRs emanating out of a university include Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights, Design Rights, Topography of ICs / Semiconductor Chips, Plant Varieties, Geographical Indications and Trade Secrets.
The objective of an IP Centre is to identify, protect, develop and commercialize the Intellectual Property emanating out of a university. The core functions of an IP Centre include –
- Educating it staff and students on the concepts regarding intellectual property rights, the law and procedure for securing intellectual property rights.
- Promoting and encouraging generation of IP.
- Hiring and appointing personnel and contracting with external organizations or professionals to outsource its operations.
- Taking responsibility of the administrative and financial aspects of running the IP Centre like – accepting or rejecting, validating and processing, filing prosecuting and maintaining – the intellectual property as per the relevant laws.
- Mediating between the industry and the institute to ensure that the university output is in-sync with the industrial requirements.
- Facilitating technology transfer between the university and the industry.
- Maintaining records, generating management information and statistics for analysis and reporting.
There are regulatory requirements which encourage setting up an IP Centre. The University Grants Commission (UGC), in its letter addressed to the Vice Chancellors of all Universities (on the 15th of October 2018), requests the universities and its affiliated colleges to setup Intellectual Property Centres. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) approval process handbook mentions Intellectual Property Cell as a desirable requirement for a technical institution. The regulatory requirement could also arise from the institute’s mission and its objectives. For an institution involved in research, the protection of research outputs becomes a necessity. An IP Centre thus becomes an internal organ in the university to check the quality and quantity of research output.
The Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) is a non-profit organization with a mission to support and advance technology worldwide. AUTM has more than 3300 members worldwide. AUTM lists out the following four major reasons for public research organizations to advance technology transfer –
- Commercialization of research for public good: The research output of a university is not only protected and reaches the market. This IP benefits the society, thereby associating itself with public-good.
- Reward, retain and recruit high-quality researchers: Technology transfer helps identify quality research and commercialize it. The royalty received out of commercialization is paid back to the researchers, thereby incentivising them. AUTM says that such a culture could attract better talent to the university.
- Building closer ties with industry: When a university begins to commercialize its research and publicize the protected technology (by patenting), the industry could be interested in building closer ties with the university.
- Generate income for further research: The royalties obtained out of commercializing research output could be re-invested into further research.
AUTM (Association of University Technology Managers) suggests an institution to consider these nine points while licensing university technology–
- Universities should reserve the right to practice licensed inventions and to allow other non-profit and governmental organizations to do so.
- Exclusive licenses should be structured in a manner that encourages technology development and use.
- Strive to minimize the licensing of “future improvements”.
- Universities should anticipate and help to manage technology transfer related conflicts of interest.
- Ensure broad access to research tools.
- Enforcement action should be carefully considered.
- Be mindful of export regulations.
- Be mindful of the implications of working with patent aggregators.
- Consider including provisions that address unmet needs, such as those of neglected patient populations or geographic areas, giving particular attention to improved therapeutics, diagnostics and agricultural technologies for the developing world.
There are three types of IP Centres – internal (runs and functions within the institute), external (run by a third-party organization without any physical office in the institution) and mixed (there is a small office in the institute. Few of its functions are carried out internally and others are delegated to an external entity). Based on the amount of research output emanating out of an institute and its financial and infrastructural capabilities, it could take a call on setting up one of these types of IP Centres.
An IP Centre, not only becomes a tool to protect research output and facilitate commercialization but also becomes an internal organ to check the quality and quantity of research. According to the institution’s capacity, it may choose to go with an internal or an external or a mixed type of IP Centre. In a typical IP Centre, the investment on IP rarely translates into returns. Regardless of the type of IP Centre, it is vital for the university to choose or setup an IP Centre helps create real assets than liabilities.