The development of an integrated office for technology transfer and commercialisation
The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209 and has been recognised for many years for its excellence in research, discoveries and inventions in the fields of science and technology. However, until the 1980’s the University did not actively encourage its researchers to collaborate with industry although there were exceptions. In 1960 a small office was established in the Department of Engineering to manage any intellectual property that resulted from research activities; in 1970 this office became the Wolfson Industrial Liaison Office (WILO) and provided intellectual property management services for the whole University but it remained very small being staffed by one, or at most two, people. Intellectual property rights (IPR) at the University were relatively liberal: the IPR were not automatically assigned to the University but academics had to work with WILO if their work was supported by a Research Council grant. In 1987 a revenue sharing scheme was put in place that divided any revenues from the exploitation of IPR between the inventor, their University Department, and the centre of the University. In cases where the research had been funded by other sources or where the academic could claim the invention was independent of any funded programme, the academic could claim the IPR as their own. This policy has granted significant independence to scientists in negotiating IPR with industrial sponsors and engaging in research commercialisation.
During the period from 1998 to 2002 a new structure for technology transfer activities emerged alongside a new IPR policy. The University adopted a more proactive position regarding collaboration with industry and actively encouraged the commercialisation of intellectual property assets such as patents, copyrights, etc. The University also became involved in the encouragement and support of entrepreneurship and the creation of new business ventures based on University ideas, inventions and business concepts. As a result of these changed policies a number of new organisations were established within the University to support the commercialisation of research.
Encouragement for Commercialisation from Universities
The changes in University policy described above resulted from two different forces: a new Vice Chancellor (the head of the University) in Cambridge in 1996 and a new government in the UK in 1997.
The new Vice Chancellor at the University of Cambridge, Sir Alec Broers, is and engineer who had worked for 20 years at IBM’s research labs. He was very clear in his support and encouragement for the University to work closely with industry through research collaborations, intellectual property exploitation (patents, licences, consultancy) and through the creation of new business ventures based on the University’s knowledge base.
The new government in the UK in 1997 made it clear that it saw that the universities had a responsibility to use their deep knowledge base to generate new products, businesses and thereby wealth for the community. To make this role clear to the universities the government introduced the concept of ‘third stream mission’ for universities and provided a separate stream of funding for these activities. The rationale was:
This new ‘mission’ for UK universities was embodied in the 1998 government white paper on education and made it a requirement for all UK universities to support the transfer of knowledge to the community. The funding for these activities, known in the UK as ‘third stream funding’ has risen steadily year on year from the ￡20 million allocated in 1998, ￡45 million in 1999, to a target of ￡150 million by 2010. In 2007 the level of spend is planned at ￡110 million across the (approximate) 90 Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) in England. This money was ‘ring-fenced’ for spending on third stream activities to prevent it being side-tracked into research or traditional teaching activities.
In the early years the third stream funding was used to finance a series or thematic programmes within the UK for which any UK university could bid. These programmes included:
New Structures within the University
The University of Cambridge applied for funding under these schemes to encourage commercialisation and was successful in each area: the result was that by 2001 at the University of Cambridge there were four separate organisations each targeted at supporting enterprise and entrepreneurship within the University. This multi-organisation approach generated considerable energy to support enterprise but it also resulted in some gaps between activities; some ‘turf’ issues and, most significantly, it caused some confusion in the academic community as to which organisation could provide which service and area of support.
This resulted in a programme to integrate the enterprise and entrepreneurship organisations with the University to form a single organisation called Cambridge Enterprise. The mission of this organisation is " to support the academics of the University of Cambridge with the commercialisation of their ideas, inventions and business concepts to make these more successful for the benefit of society, the UK economy, the academics and, consequentially, the University".
Cambridge Enterprise is established within the Unified Administration Service (UAS) of the University of Cambridge and it wants to provide a ‘one-stop-shop’ for transactions between academics and commercial partners. Cambridge Enterprise brings together the offices of:
Cambridge Entrepreneurship Centre (including business incubator)
Technology Transfer Office
University Challenge Fund (and University Venture Fund)
Cambridge University Technical Services Ltd
Cambridge Enterprise also holds the budget for the entrepreneurship teaching programmes within the University and the head of Cambridge Enterprise is the Chairman of the Entrepreneurship Teaching Committee at the Judge Business School. This ensures that the entrepreneurship teaching programmes are co-ordinated with Cambridge Enterprise programmes.
There has been a review and re-design of the ‘case management’ process and staffing for all commercialisation cases within Cambridge Enterprise, for licensing, consulting, investment or new venture creation.
Advantages of Integration
There is a range of advantages that have been achieved from integrating the enterprise offices within the University of Cambridge. These advantages include:
There were some small cost savings resulting from more efficient use of administrative resources but the real benefits came from making the whole case management process work much faster and a major driver for this is the more effective management of each commercialisation ‘case’.
In Cambridge Enterprise there is a staff meeting every week and at that point each new ‘invention disclosure’ is discussed and a case manager is selected for that case. The case manager is selected on the basis of relevant skills and current workload.
The case manager is responsible for the successful process of the case towards a clear decision: a decision not to support an invention is as important and as relevant an outcome as a decision to support an invention. The case manager is not expected to do all the work on a case by him/herself but is expected to plan the tasks necessary for the particular case and to plan the resources, including an analysis of the particular skills, necessary to carry out the work on the case. The case manager must get other members of the Cambridge Enterprise team to work on their case - and the case manager is expected to work on other cases where his/her skills are needed: a matrix management approach.
This case management approach has several advantages:
The focus of responsibility on the case manager also enabled a review of the ‘active cases’ being worked on by each case executive and, as a result of this review, to reduce the number of cases considerably. This in turn has resulted in an increase in speed of response on each active case and more time and effort available to spend on each case.
Managing Skills and Resources
With the organisational focus on ‘case management’ it is important not to forget the maintenance and culturing of specific skill areas within Cambridge Enterprise. To help achieve this, and to give each member of staff a ‘line manager’ to report to for staff development and career progression matters, a set of ‘skill groups’ has been introduced. Each skill group has a skill group manager whose responsibility is to provide line management for the members of staff within the skill group and to ensure that there is a satisfactory growth and development of the specific skills for which he/she is responsible. Each member of staff has a ‘primary skill group’ which is where their main area of skill lies and where they get their line management, but they may also be a member of other skill groups if they want to improve or enhance additional areas of skill. The skill groups that have been introduced within Cambridge Enterprise are:
Commercialisation of university intellectual assets is important for the academics involved, the university itself and the national economy. Effective and efficient commercialisation programmes rely on a more integrated approach addressing a range of issues including:
Effective commercialisation programmes involving a wide constituency within the university is helping to build a culture of enterprise and entrepreneurship within the university that encourages further development of ideas and inventions that can be commercialised. This is the virtuous circle that we aim to achieve.