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The University of New South Wales has decided to open a significant chunk of its patent pool to outsiders for free, in a strategy called Easy Access IP.

The strategy is being implemented and overseen through NSi, the university’s commercialization operation, under the hand of CEO Dr Kevin Cullen, who joined NSi in May and has pursued a similar strategy at the University of Glasgow.

The University of Copenhagen and Kings College London are other universities using the opening of their patent portfolio to encourage collaboration between researchers and industry.

Unlike the kinds of patents that roll out of, say, Cupertino and act primarily as lawyer-fodder and competition blockers, the patents that flow from academic research typically represent technologies at a very early stage of development, the University explains.

As a result, such patents would typically need someone with a money truck handy to create commercial products. So the IP policy is designed to act as a honeypot: someone with deep pockets, commercialization savvy and a potential market can license a technology for free, if it puts a serious effort into commercialization.

And there’s an incentive for researchers as well. While the university isn’t mandating the policy as a requirement for its academics, it believes that their understanding of their own developments will be attractive to commercial partners – in turn, acting as a potential source of further research funding.

“The focus of Easy Access IP is to put more university IP into the hands of the private sector and to allow industry to build on our research and take it to market,” said Professor Les Field, UNSW’s deputy vice-chancellor for research. “This is quite a radical departure from the way that UNSW and most universities have been doing business.”

Some patents will be held back – such as those where the University has already been able to identify significant commercial value – but most patents will now be licensed under the new regime.

A company using UNSW-developed IP will be required to acknowledge the University’s contribution, and will have to exploit Easy Access IP-licensed information within three years or transfer the IP back to the university.

The license also allows UNSW to continue developing licensed technologies itself.

At this early stage, only a handful of technologies are listed under the Easy Access IP license, covering nanotubes, genetics, biofuels, materials and medicine. ®

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