18 August 2016Copyright

UK universities 'lack IP knowledge', report shows

British universities should provide adequate and clear opportunities for students to learn about intellectual property issues, a report by the National Union of Students (NUS) has found.

The report, published on Tuesday, August 16, found that IP knowledge within universities is limited to copyright and plagiarism issues, while less than a quarter of students surveyed were aware that they could protect their work.

The research, conducted by NUS Insight on behalf of the Intellectual Property Awareness Network, surveyed 2,800 students and 250  teaching staff at 150 UK universities and higher education institutions.

They were asked for their views on IP, the teaching of IP issues and IP’s policy impact.

According to the report, 19% of students had no idea whether there is any IP in their project work and 14% of respondents didn't knew how to protect their work with IP.

Respondents said they had “a strong desire” to understand more about IP and its implications for them and their future careers. However, some staff said they felt ill-prepared to offer effective guidance and were therefore reluctant to advise students about the implications of IP.

Charlie Winckworth, partner at law firm Hogan Lovells, said the report highlights the lack of understanding within the general population about what IP is, what it covers, and what it prevents or permits you to do.

However, Winckworth added that the statistics should be seen as an “encouraging shift” in the levels of awareness and understanding among the younger generation.

“81% of respondents understanding that IP subsists in their work product, and 86% thinking they understand how to protect that IP, is significantly above what you might expect,” he told WIPR.

But Sally Shorthose, partner at law firm Bird & Bird, said the paucity of knowledge and understanding is surprising and could mean that valuable opportunities to capitalise on the fruits of research are being lost.

Several recommendations were made in the report including that universities provide opportunities for students to learn about IP, that the wording of IP policy at universities should be improved and that guidelines should be developed to ensure students’ IP rights are not compromised at public exhibitions.

Shorthose added that some universities have become “increasingly savvy” about use and protection of IP, as demonstrated by the establishment of technology transfer offices.

However, she said: “These institutions seem to be in a minority, so the introduction of IP modules to explain to students and staff the availability of opportunities, as well as the risks, of which they seem already to be aware, would be gratefully received.”

Winckworth added: “By their very nature, some higher education institutions, and some courses they offer, are going to come into contact with IP with greater frequency. On the technical innovation side, some will spin off IP-holding entities on a regular basis, and others will have dozens of ongoing R&D agreements with industry.

“Putting in place the sorts of support structure to enable this is certainly at one end of the spectrum, but even a well-signposted intranet page setting out basic information about IP with examples of commercialised ideas could be really useful, whether for students during their studies or indeed for life afterwards."

The report was part-financed by the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys.

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