Brussels, 10 April 2008
Commission urges Member States and public research organisations to better convert knowledge into socio-economic benefits
The European Commission today adopted a Recommendation on the management of intellectual property in knowledge transfer activities of universities and other public research organisations. The Recommendation provides public research organisations (PROs) with operational principles to more effectively manage and exploit intellectual property.
Vice-President Günter Verheugen, Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, said: "European universities and other public research organisations need to engage more actively in the exploitation of publicly-funded research results. It's necessary in order to stimulate innovation and maximise the benefits of publicly funded research, so we can turn scientific research into new products and services, which will create new industries and jobs."
"The EU and its Member States invest a lot of public money in research and development and we should invest even more. But we also need to become better in turning research results in to commercially or socially successful innovations. Proper management by public research organisations of their intellectual property is crucial for transferring knowledge to business, for licensing new technologies or creating spin-off companies. Doing this at a European scale brings new opportunities. We cannot afford to let valuable inventions lie idle in laboratories or on bookshelves", said Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik.
The Recommendation is addressed to all Member States to help them develop or adapt policies or guidelines on the management of intellectual property (IP) and knowledge transfer activities, and intends to promote the exploitation of publicly-funded research results.
Europe is notoriously claimed to be better at producing high-level knowledge than at converting it into socio-economic benefits. While the output in terms of scientific publication is comparable to that of the US, European universities and PROs produce considerably less inventions, file less patents, negotiate fewer licensing deals and generate a lower number of spin-offs than their US counterparts. Surveys have shown that European organisations lag behind their North America counterparts regarding invention disclosures (by 25%), patent applications (by 53%) and patent grants (by 36%).
Member States have taken a number of initiatives in recent years to facilitate knowledge transfer between PROs and the private sector such as legislative changes and the development of guidelines or model contracts, but these measures were often designed from a purely national perspective. This approach did not address the discrepancies between national systems, and hampered trans-national knowledge transfer.
The Commission contends that active engagement of PROs in IP management and knowledge transfer would not conflict with their education and research missions, but would rather support their goal of generating socio-economic benefits for society and could even become a key element to attract students, scientists and further research funding, in particular from the private sector and at international level.
To improve the management of IP by European universities and PROs, the Commission Recommendation offers a set of key policy principles which Member States are asked to follow when introducing or adapting national guidelines or other measures regarding knowledge transfer. Relying on common principles across Europe will help address the existing discrepancies between national knowledge transfer systems (regulations, practices, etc.). It will also facilitate knowledge transfer both within and between Member States and support the development of a truly European Research Area.
The Recommendation also includes a "Code of Practice" for universities and
other PROs, offering more operational principles which they should rely on when
developing or reviewing institutional policies. Evidently, such policies should
be balanced; promoting the exploitation of publicly-funded research results on
the one hand while ensuring their broad dissemination on the other and where
appropriate, taking into account reasonable delays to enable protection of IP.