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Friday, November 21, 2014

Boosting commercial returns from research

By Clare Young, Managing Associate

In late October, the Ministers for Industry and Education released a consultation paper entitled Boosting commercial returns from research. At this stage the proposals are fairly vague, which suggests that the industry consultation process will be a key part of shaping those proposals into more concrete policy. Clearly, universities and research organisations will be affected by these proposals, but there will also be benefits – by way of additional project funding – to business in those industries which are identified as being relevant to Australia's research priorities.

The consultation paper is part of the Government's Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda. Its four ambitions are to pursue:
  • A lower cost, business-friendly environment with less regulation, lower taxes and more competitive markets;
  • A more skilled labour force;
  • Better economic infrastructure; and
  • Industry policy that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship.

Industry Growth Centres

One of the key initiatives proposed is the establishment of Industry Growth Centres in five sectors 'where Australia has recognised competitive strengths', being:
  • Food and agribusiness;
  • Mining equipment, technology and services;
  • Oil, gas and energy resources;
  • Medical technologies and pharmaceuticals; and
  • Advanced manufacturing.
Each Growth Centre is tasked with:
  • Increasing commercialisation opportunities;
  • Enhancing workforce skills;
  • Addressing regulatory barriers; and
  • Forging closer links with supply chains in their specific sector.
A Board filled with representatives from the business and research communities will be responsible for the operation of each Growth Centre and directing the up to $3.5 million a year in funding. One of the goals is to create a 'demand-pull' for research.
A key theme throughout the Agenda is that Australia punches above its weight in research excellence but fails miserably in commercialising that research*. The consultation paper sets out several proposals to address that problem, on which it seeks comments by the end of November, including providing better access to research.

Focused research

The Commonwealth Science Council (previously known as the Prime Minister's Science and Engineering and Innovation Council) is tasked with advising on national priorities for research, which could be the starting point for discussions between industry, research organisations and the Government.

Stronger incentives for research-industry collaboration

Whilst retaining a focus on quality and excellence, the paper suggests that block grants should include added emphasis on research-industry collaboration.
The paper also recognises that researchers are not sufficiently incentivised to consider business spin-offs for their IP, so the Government proposes to consider ways to recognise entrepreneurship.  Another proposal is that in certain PhD programs training such as IP awareness and business management should be included.

Providing better access to the research

When it comes to commercialising research, the paper finds that factors such as ownership of project IP, publication rights and accurate valuation of IP make negotiating suitable IP contracts time consuming and difficult for the parties. The suggestion is that this may be overcome, or at least alleviated, in part by providing guidance (in the form of an IP toolkit) to simplify discussions between researchers and industry.
The deadline for submissions is 28 November 2014. At the time of going to print, no submissions were available to see on the Department's website. We will be watching this space.
* Australia ranks 29th and 30th out of 30 OECD countries on the proportion of large businesses and small to medium enterprises (SMEs) collaborating with higher education and public research institutions on innovation according to OECD, based on Eurostat (CIS-2010) and national data sources, June 2013  

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