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The Sticky Part: International Approaches to IP

April 10, 2023 — Intellectual property (IP) is the foundation for innovation worldwide; it incentivizes researchers and businesses to develop new ideas and products to solve the world’s most pressing challenges. But different approaches to IP management can make cross-sector partnerships harder because there are wide variations in how it’s typically managed from country to country.

IP management approaches vary widely and impact the level and type of university-industry research collaboration. UIDP’s 2021 survey of international IP management illustrates the varying approaches and offers critical intelligence for research collaboration in today’s global economy.

In the United States, for example, the Bayh-Dole Act grants universities the right to own IP arising from federally-funded research while allowing researchers to retain certain rights. The near opposite approach is professor’s privilege. In the past, many European countries used this system in which university researchers retain ownership of IP they generate. Almost two decades ago, most countries made the switch to university ownership, with the exception of Sweden, which still maintains the professor’s privilege system.

IP rights under scrutiny

Today, most non-U.S. models either give IP rights to the university that employs the researcher or consider IP on a case-by-case basis depending on funding, type of project, or institutional policy.

Despite their grounding in laws, regulations, and common practices, IP approaches are under scrutiny. Because IP management has an impact on innovation and research collaboration, government leaders are interested in whether alternative approaches may lead to better outcomes. There is debate in a number of European countries about whether to reinstate professor’s privilege, with proponents often arguing that the current regime dampens research-based startup activity. A limited Norway-based study attempts to make this point, but the relatively short period of time following the introduction of the new process means it’s hard to draw a solid conclusion. Naturally, some researchers have also voiced an interest in switching back to the professor’s privilege model. But the reverse argument can be made, too—that the current model incentivizes universities to invest in partnership offices and the professionals who support tech translation to accelerate the process, enhancing innovation overall.

No sudden moves

Tomas Ulrichsen, director of the University Commercialisation and Innovation Policy Evidence unit at the University of Cambridge, says changing policy around IP management is not to be taken lightly. “If we are going to make such a major and likely disruptive change, we really need to understand the intended and unintended consequences, and that comes down to the nuts and bolts of how it works,” Ulrichsen said in a UIDP interview. “For example, if the professor owns [the IP], who are you negotiating with? Who has to be in the room? How do you build these partnerships, and who provides and funds the support? What do we need to understand?”

Why it matters

IP is a driving force behind innovation in the global economy, and it plays a vital role in university-industry partnerships. IP rights ensure that discoveries and inventions are protected, recognized, and monetized appropriately, ultimately propelling new discoveries and solutions to the world’s most challenging issues. Understanding IP rights internationally is crucial for everyone involved in innovation to recognize new approaches to IP or to navigate international partnerships in the future.

UIDP will dive more deeply into the mechanics of international partnerships and IP practices at UIDP Europe, June 12-13, in Stockholm, Sweden. This international meeting will convene stakeholders from across the globe to explore contemporary approaches for building strong partnerships to advance society’s interests and delve deeply into the pros and cons of different IP approaches. Learn more and register here.

We want to hear from you. How does your organization manage IP? Have you ever dealt with IP internationally? Let us know on our LinkedIn profile.

The 3-Minute Read is a UIDP member information piece and does not represent the opinions of our members or representatives. We welcome your comments on our LinkedIn profile.