I recently participated in a training course on research contracts hosted by PraxisUnico, a UK-based nonprofit that supports education related to innovation and commercialization of public sector and charity research for social and economic impact.
The course focused on analyzing research and law contracts by breaking them down into different elements and clauses. For example, we covered the basics of law contracts and the structures of standard research contracts, along with boilerplate and non-boilerplate clauses. We then discussed Lambert Model Research Agreements and other common models, as well as how to manage risks within university contracts.
By the end of the course, I understood how to analyze intellectual property, interpret publication and commercialization clauses in a research contract, and put what I had learned into a real-world context.
A Focus on IP and Commercialization
At TTI, we pay close attention to the intellectual property and commercialization clauses of collaborative research agreements. They’re often contentious, so I was interested in learning more about this often difficult-to-navigate area.
The difference between intellectual property and commercialization, I learned, is that IP is associated with giving and granting rights. Commercialization, on the other hand, is about taking the technology from the lab to the market.
From a university’s perspective, the focus is on who should own research results. Generally, both universities and research sponsors want to own IP. Depending on collaboration agreements, universities must retain certain basic rights to the IP to protect their freedom to operate. However, sponsors will sometimes accept a guaranteed right to use IP (on appropriate and agreed-upon terms), instead of ownership.
Negotiating Collaboration Agreements that Work
We also discussed best practices for reviewing collaboration agreements. First, when reviewing an agreement, look at what each party is contributing. Sometimes, if the collaboration involves a company, their contribution may be funding. But often, both public and private sector partners bring something more, such as insight, expertise, materials, or research space.
Another important step is to define the intellectual property rights to the results of the collaboration, based upon what each is contributing—both the existing contributions prior to the collaboration, and new results that may arise from it. Clearly outlining each party’s rights at the beginning of a relationship helps avoid disputes later down the road.
Learning by Doing
What I liked best about the course was its hands-on, interactive format. I took part in a number of small focus groups, where experienced research contract specialists gave practical advice to beginners in the field. This was a great way to gain insight into others’ ways of thinking and interact with fellow professionals in the course.
The course ended with a half-day workshop on how to successfully handle and close a deal. We discussed the four main areas of any research contract (publication, budgeting, commercialization, and liability), and learned tactics for managing each.
Overall, the course was a successful, productive, and informative three days. PraxisUnico combined a thorough, professional education model with great real-world insight. The nonprofit calls itself “the UK’s leading organization for commercialization professionals”—and now I can see why. Looking ahead, I hope to take advantage of more of what they have to offer.
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