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Government publishes review of Intellectual Property Management and Conflicts of Interest in Higher Education

10 recommendations adopted to ensure best practice in our Higher Level Institutions

The Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton TD, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, the Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research & Development, John Halligan TD, and the Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, today announced the publication of the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI) Review of Intellectual Property Management and Conflicts of Interest, which provides a framework for the strengthening of IP policies and procedures in higher education institutions.

We want our education system to be the best in Europe by 2026. Knowledge transfer, including commercialisation, is a key mission of our higher education institutions and is important to delivering on this ambition. In Ireland, the ecosystem to support commercialisation of HEI intellectual property (IP) has been evolving rapidly, driven by the desire to increase the impact of research and to bring benefits in terms of jobs and investment to Ireland and its regions.

As a country, we have taken a pro-active approach to encouraging and supporting entrepreneurial activity and sharing good practice across the HEI sector - initiatives such as the Technology Transfer Strengthening Initiative, the introduction of a national research commercialisation policy and IP Protocol, and the establishment of KTI. These initiatives have not alone made a step change to commercialisation but have also provided more clarity around the process of commercialising IP.

Our HEIs have policies in place for Intellectual Property management, and have technology transfer staff and other dedicated professionals to carry out these day-to-day activities. The development and implementation of institutional policies is an ongoing process of evolution. The recommendations from this Review will further develop consistency of approach across the sector.

Ten recommendations have been identified, and these cover two broad headings – Guidance (preparation and provision of enhanced practical guidance by KTI to the HEIs) and Governance (implementation of strengthened HEI governance measures and monitoring by the HEA). The Government have agreed to adopt all recommendations in the Review.

The recommendations cover such areas as – 

  • Single IP policy - every higher education institution should have a single IP policy
  • Consistency in IP policies across the sector
  • Clear decision-making and dispute resolution processes
  • Common principles underpinning spin-out formation
  • Awareness of potential conflicts of interest within IP commercialization

 

Welcoming the Review, Minister Bruton stated that “The recommendations from the Review are particularly timely given the increasing engagement of Ireland’s higher education systems with enterprise, which we want to continually encourage, for the benefit of our society and our economy”.

Minister Humphreys said, ““The Government is committed to cultivating a system and infrastructure in this country where research and innovation can excel. I am pleased to see that our higher education institutes have come a long way in a short time and welcome approaches to further strengthen their commercialisation performance. HEIs have a key role to play in supporting the ambitions in Innovation 2020 – the Government’s strategy for research and development, science and technology”

Minister Mitchell O’Connor stated that “The recommendations outlined in the Review will serve to strengthen the policies and procedures in our institutions and will improve good practice. Our aim is not to stifle commercialisation activity, but to ensure that it is managed in an open, transparent and professional way”.

Minister Halligan said, “One of the key objectives of my Department is supporting more companies to engage in research and innovation activities –turning good ideas into innovative products and services and ultimately jobs. I welcome this review and its recommendations, which will serve to bring enhanced practical guidance to the commercialisation of intellectual property in our higher education institutes”.

A KTI-HEA Stakeholder Working Group is being formed, which will include representatives from the two Government Departments and the higher education sector, to oversee implementation of these recommendations. KTI is a joint initiative between Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Universities Association (IUA). KTI’s knowledge transfer activities are funded through the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

 

Notes to Editors:

 

The Review of Intellectual Property Management and Conflicts of Interest, undertaken by IP Pragmatics, was commissioned by the Higher Education Authority in partnership with Knowledge Transfer Ireland. It was in response to issues raised at the Public Accounts Committee in 2017. The Review covered 22 higher education institutions.

 

Full details can be found here hea.ie/2018/02/08/review-of-intellectual-property-policies-procedures-in-higher-education-published/

 

The HEA leads the strategic development of the Irish higher education and research system with the objective of creating a coherent system of diverse institutions with distinct missions, which is responsive to the social, cultural and economic development of Ireland and its people and supports the achievement of national objectives.

 

KTI is the national office that helps business to benefit from access to Irish expertise and technology by making it simple to connect and engage with the research base in Ireland. KTI enables companies to innovate their business by signposting to novel technology and research expertise in Ireland and by providing best practice guidance to simplify the process of accessing this rich source of opportunity.

 

Ten key recommendations

 

The ten key recommendations identified which would strengthen the IP policies, management procedures, and management of conflicts of interest relating to the commercialisation of IP from the Higher Education Institutions within Ireland are –

Single IP policy: Every HEI should have a single IP policy covering all major commercialisation routes, including spin-outs, to make it simple for researchers to understand the processes and their obligations. This policy should be easily and publicly available on their website, regularly reviewed (at least every 4 years) through internal consultation, and approved by the Governing Body. The date of review and approving body should be recorded on the policy.

Common IP policy framework: KTI, in consultation with HEA and others, should support consistency across IP policies by working with the HEIs to develop and agree a framework of minimum components to be included in every IP policy, reflecting the requirements of the current national IP Protocol. Where groups of HEIs have similar procedures, a common policy format is preferred.

Clear decision-making and dispute resolution processes: All IP policies should include a clear description of decision-making processes relating to IP commercialisation, with a dispute  resolution process. Certain decisions such as spin-out formation or significant asset realisation should involve at least one senior executive HEI decision maker who is not part of the academic research hierarchy, for example the Secretary or Financial Controller.

Common principles underpinning spin-out formation: The individual circumstances surrounding the formation of each spin-out are too variable for fixed equity shares for the HEI or founders to be predetermined within the IP policy. However, there should be a set of common national principles that explain the basis upon which equity shares are taken and the consideration involved. KTI, in consultation with HEA and others, should lead the definition of these principles as part of the ongoing development of the national IP Protocol.

Clarity on revenue share mechanisms: Revenue share mechanisms should be clearly described in the IP policy for both revenue from licensing and equity realisation, and for equity share, and must conform to the national IP Protocol. This should include consideration of how royalty revenues received from any spin-out companies in which a researcher is a significant shareholder will be distributed.

Determination of creator contributions at initial disclosure: The relative contributions from multiple creators of intellectual property should be determined and agreed between the creators in writing as part of the invention disclosure process, and confirmed before commercialization.

Awareness of potential conflicts of interest within IP commercialisation: The IP policy should clearly describe the potential for conflicts of interest arising within IP commercialisation and how the IP management policy and procedures support their avoidance or management. It should also direct researchers to the relevant section in the Conflicts of Interest policy.

Dedicated Conflict of Interest policy: Every HEI should have a single Conflict of Interest policy which is easily and publicly available on their website, regularly reviewed, and  approved by  the Governing Body. This should include reference to actual and potential for conflicts relating to IP commercialisation and   their management and should point to the detailed information and processes outlined in the HEI IP policy which are designed to mitigate  many such conflicts.

More robust governance and management of conflict of interest: Whilst responsibility for recognising and avoiding conflicts of interest should remain with the individual, HEIs must take more responsibility at a senior level to put robust procedures in place to identify, manage and record the approach taken to avoid or manage conflicts of interest. A summary of all potential conflicts reported and management mechanisms put in place should be reviewed by the Governing Body at least annually.

Triggers for policy review: Automatic review of each policy should be triggered if there is a significant change in national policy and guidance, for example within six months of the introduction of updates to the national IP Protocol or Code of Governance.

 

 

 

 

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