Mandy Haberman, IPAN Vice-Chair and member of its Education Group writes:

On 24-25 January the European progress conference 2017: Dissemination of IP knowledge in universities took place at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. I was invited to participate in a panel discussion, addressing the question, “What do universities and research organisations need to establish a successful IP culture?” The session was moderated by Andrea Brewster, Past President of CIPA and member of CIPA’s Education & Professional Standards Committee.The delegates represented a broad mix of the European Union member states. There were IP Academics, Knowledge and Technology transfer officers, IP and Patent practitioners who deliver IP education, and national IPO representatives, who work with universities through delivering online and other resources.

From the UK, IPAN was well represented. Professor Ruth Soetendorp spoke on Best practices: Ways to integrate IP in business schools, drawing on the module she has developed for City University of London.  European IP Teachers Network (EIPTN) was well represented by immediate past chair Claire Howell, Senior Lecturer, Aston Business School who facilitated a breakout session entitled, ‘How to develop fundraising for IP university projects?’ and current chair Janice Denoncourt, Senior Lecturer in Law, Nottingham Law School who contributed to a session that discussed how to reinforce a European network of IP training institutions and IP teachers.

I was delighted to be asked to participate in this event as the subject of IP education in universities, is close to my heart. As a UKIPO NED, and Vice-chair of IPAN but primarily as an inventor and entrepreneur who has successfully brought new technologies into a competitive market and enforced patent rights against companies who would otherwise have simply stolen my ideas, I know first hand that IP is key for any enterprise and I am a passionate advocate of IP education.

However, in my experience, whilst many UK universities are proud to claim an ‘enterprise culture’, few yet recognise the need to teach IP, or embrace the need for an IP culture. Entrepreneurship and business management courses are typically run without any mention of IP. Design is a significant industry sector in the UK yet the majority of university design schools teach no IP awareness and repeatedly display students’ work to the public without protection.

IPAN’s latest published research, “University IP policies: Perception and Practice” found that, once their eyes have been opened to its relevance, students see IP as an absolutely essential part of their education. Indeed, overseas students showed an expectation of receiving IP education at UK universities. So, there is a strong demand for IP education – but it hasn’t yet found a clear voice.

Whilst enterprise and entrepreneurship are seen as sexy subjects to offer, IP is perceived as dull and legalistic. Staff are resistant to taking on responsiblitiy for it and view any extra workload, particularly for a subject that they themselves know nothing about, as unacceptable. So, establishing a successful IP culture within a higher education institution is a significant challenge.

The conference focus seemed to be split between post-graduate, research institutions, concerned primarily with  how to bridge the gap between Technology Transfer Offices and researchers and the more broad based universities, concerned with the issue of a basic IP education and awareness for undergraduates. Neither appears to be making best use of IP data bases and it was recognised that a substantial percentage of research effort and funding is wasted in reinventing the wheel, simply because students and staff fail to consult the available resources, despite the fact that the EPO, EUIPO and the national IPOs produce excellent materials to disseminate IP awareness in universities. The EUIPO Academy demonstrated its learning portal that offers interactive IP education to every level and to suit every need.  It seems to me that there is no shortage of excellent material and resource available. The question is how to stimulate an appetite amongst staff and students for accessing and using it!

ETH and a number of other institutions do have successful knowledge transfer offices and are a good example for the processes that need to be put in place for protecting and exploiting IP generated by research students and staff. Professor of IP, Centre for Law & Economics, ETH Zurich, Stefan Bechtold, advised ‘Don’t try to reach everyone’ with IP education as, ‘it does not work at a place with limited top-down culture’. It would seem that that view is shared by other institutions whose technology transfer offices do nothing to help, or address the needs of undergraduates,“because the institution does not own their IP” or possibly because they simply do not have the time or resources. Dr Sri Krishnan, European patent attorney, Nestlé Research Centre, repeatedly referenced the IPAN/NUS research paper published in 2012, “Student Attitudes to Intellectual Property“. He also confirmed that, ‘in general, IP ownership not regulated’ so, the issue of IP ownership and the variance in IP Policy remains an unresolved hot topic.

The conference stimulated lively debate. Professor Ruth Soetendorp made the point that IP education should be available to all but delivered as appropriate to meet their needs. I strongly support this view. Students from many subject areas create commercially valuable IP, not just the sciences and engineering. I believe that it is essential that all students should be equipped for life with at least a basic awareness of IP.

A conference summary is being prepared and will be published by the EPO.

Photograph: Trevor Patt – ETH 2011 (some rights reserved)