The Importance of Working with Universities by Carl Brown

It’s fair to say that at this time of economic uncertainty government bodies are looking increasingly to small businesses to take the lead at the forefront of economic growth.

This is particularly true for some of our most innovative businesses who work with leading academics, providing high quality employment to fuel not only their growth but also the growth of the economy.

Some of the most innovative businesses that I have worked with are those who have embraced working with academia in collaborative partnerships.

Without a doubt these collaborations benefit both parties, it is a two-way street in which the business gains access to the latest research thinking, enhancing their product development, enabling them to continue to grow and remain competitive.

Universities can provide a massive body of research knowledge; they can also provide access to a vast pool of talent via their academic and student community.

And in return?

Academia gains through commercialising their research, establishing relationships and developing their wider networks which ultimately convert their science into wealth.

The role Intellectual Property (IP) has in these collaborative relationships is often confused as a block to collaboration as opposed to the enabler of collaboration as it is intended. The purpose of IP is to enable and promote innovation allowing innovators to openly and freely speak about their work whilst granting the inventor a monopoly of their rights and further development to happen.

We have spoken to clients who express caution when working with a university as the IP clauses in their contracts can often cause confusion about the ownership of their outcome. This has been the case when companies are contemplating recruiting a Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

But…what are they?

A form of collaborative partnership that enable businesses and universities to work together in partnership; sharing research and resources and, developing new products. KTPs represent a fantastic route to access the latest research and expertise of a university in which a postgraduate or post doctorate student works with the company in return to the business contributing to their salary but gaining access to a wealth of academic support.

However, one of the challenges for business is to understand how they first engage with academia, I would recommend that the first point of contact is the University Knowledge Transfer Office or Technology Transfer Office, in some universities these are now a function of the Business Development Group.

Here at RTC North we can help facilitate these introductions on behalf of clients, ensuring that the connections are made between technology transfer offices and business.

The Pathways to Innovation programme has supported clients through checking the IP clauses in KTP agreements and have been able to put our client’s minds at ease about IP ownership generated by a partnership.  

Furthermore, it is also worth considering that via Innovate UK there are a range of funding opportunities to support productive collaboration. This funding is intended to help mitigate the risk in developing new products.

In addition to the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships mentioned previously Innovate UK also provides the following support available:

  • Innovate UK Smart Grants
  • Small Business Research Initiative  
  • Innovation Loans
  • Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research
  • Biomedical catalysts
  • Energy Catalysts

To help our business clients overcome some of the barriers and learn more about the opportunities that are out there, RTC North and Northumbria University have worked in partnership to host number of events

18th Sept           Innovate UK Funding Workshop  https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/about-us/news-events/events/2019/09/innovate-uk-funding-workshop/

19th Sept           Connecting Business and Academia https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/connecting-business-and-academia-tickets-65100116200

22nd Oct           Innovate UK Funding Workshop

12th Nov           Writing a Grant application

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