Other issues and concerns

17.58 The impediments outlined above will, in some cases, inhibit technology transfer. This may have a variety of consequences, such as the inadequate capture and exploitation of Australia’s research outputs. This in turn may prevent the Australian community from deriving maximum benefit from public spending on genetic research in the form of tests and therapies and in economic growth.

17.59 Two other specific concerns arise in relation to technology transfer practices—variability in practice across organisations, and lack of clear ownership of patents. These are discussed below.

Variability in practice between organisations

17.60 DEST and the ARC have each suggested that skills and experience of technology transfer offices vary between organisations. This may leave technology transfer to what has been called ‘a lottery’ with regard to the skills and resources available at each organisation.[63]

17.61 This concern is more likely to arise in relation to universities rather than other research organisations. Universities undertake research across a broad spectrum of activities in diverse fields, and may not build up sufficient expertise in transferring genetic research and dealing with the biotechnology industry. Research organisations focusing specifically on medical or biotechnology research may have greater experience with the particular features of the biotechnology sector and therefore be better equipped to manage gene patents and transfer technology.

Collaborative research and lack of clear ownership of patents

17.62 It is not always clear where ownership of intellectual property generated through publicly funded research lies. This is largely due to the cumulative nature of many breakthroughs in genetic research, and collaborative research across a number of research organisations. The problem of unclear ownership may be exacerbated where researchers have joint appointments to several organisations, or where research is conducted by visiting researchers or students. This section examines issues that may arise where ownership of intellectual property is shared across a number of organisations or with industry partners.[64]

17.63 Unencumbered ownership of patents is of considerable importance in attracting investment for further development. Fragmented or unclear ownership of patents may deter potential investors.[65] Also, as Bio Innovation SA commented, difficulties in determining ownership may contribute to the length of time it can take to move intellectual property out of the public sphere into industry.[66]

17.64 Another problem raised in consultations was that research institutions, universities and public sector organisations may have different approaches to, and policies for, intellectual property management. This can create problems for technology transfer and commercialisation where organisations cannot agree on how to address transfer issues.[67] Similarly, researchers are sometimes employed by more than one organisation, and the diversity of approaches may cause confusion.

[63] D Nicol, Consultation, Sydney, 21 October 2003.

[64] Issues about ownership of research within institutions, rather than ownership shared between institutions, are considered in Chapter 11.

[65] Department of Education Science and Training, Best Practice Processes for University Research Commercialisation (2002), 51.

[66] Bio Innovation SA, Consultation, Adelaide, 16 September 2003.

[67] Western Australian Department of Health and others (research issues), Consultation, Perth, 17 September 2003.