Easy Access IP

Easy Access IP (www.easyaccessip.com) is an approach to knowledge exchange (KE) between universities and business under which research institutions offer a free licence to a specific technology, using a simple, non-negotiable, one-page agreement.  In return for the licence, the recipient must commit to using the technology to create value for society and the economy, and to acknowledge the role of the institution as the originator of the intellectual property (IP).  

According to the assessment report, a total of 68 Easy Access IP licence deals were reported by 18 organisations in the survey;
as the authors comment, this number is small compared with the number of traditional licences agreed in the same time period (677 deals reported by 14 organisations).  However, as the authors acknowledge, it is still too early to judge the success of the scheme for most participants.

The Easy Access IP model was first introduced at the University of Glasgow in 2010, in response to a desire to focus its commercial efforts on to a small proportion of potentially high value opportunities, and to give free access to the remainder of its IP to companies and individuals so that new products and services could be developed to benefit society and the economy.  By the start of 2015, Easy Access IP had been adopted by 24 universities and research organisations both in the UK and abroad.

The originator of the Easy Access IP initiative, Dr Kevin Cullen, was Director of Research & Innovation at the University of Glasgow before leaving for Australia, where he is now CEO of UNSW Innovations at the University of New South Wales.  The report gives an excellent summary of the thinking behind the initiative, and how a university might look at different knowledge transfer activities in terms of cost and possible returns.  

Dr Cullen’s influence is clear in the current implementation of the initiative;  three of the publicly announced Easy Access IP deals listed in the report are from Glasgow, and five from UNSW, while 21 of the 62 technologies currently on offer (at 23 January) are from Glasgow, and 12 from UNSW, with a further eight from other Australian universities.  The partners
in the initiative include ten UK universities, and five from Australia.

So what benefits are apparent from participation in the Easy Access IP?  IP Pragmatics comments that even where the scheme is not heavily used, the majority of participants find it a useful addition to the range of KE mechanisms available to them, and all intend to remain partners and continue to use the scheme where appropriate.  Easy Access IP does not replace the traditional routes for exploitation of high value opportunities, but can be additive to other activities and can lead to other relationships.  It is a valuable marketing tool both to academics and to potential industry partners, and sends a positive message that the university is open and easy to work with.

However, although it reduces the staff time and legal costs of the transaction stage, it does not help at the earlier marketing and partner identification stage.  This means it saves more time and money for the company partners than the university partners.  On the other hand, there is no evidence that it has caused industry to expect all IP to be available for free.

The report gives a thoughtful assessment of a range of initial objections to the Easy Access IP concept, and whether or not they remain valid in the light of initial experience.  

Commenting on the wider uptake of university IP, the report suggests that the costs and risks of development, difficulties in reaching potential partners, and lack of commercial potential may be more important constraints than the IP licensing issue.  “Easy Access IP set out a challenge to industry – if the low level of engagement is due to the difficulty of dealing with universities, then removal of these barriers should lead to increased engagement from companies.  This does not appear to have happened to a significant extent, so perhaps this demonstrates that other more fundamental issues are more important, and will allow the debate to move on.”

Posted on Wednesday, 06 May 2015