There’s an interesting piece in today’s Fin (subscription required) about Uni of NSW Vice-Chancellor Rory Hume, who says universities should give away (nearly all) the research they produce rather trying to make money out of intellectual property. I think he’s right for a number of reasons.
First, despite some impressions to the contrary, the returns to universities from commercialising research have been very poor, even in the US where this has been going on for a long time. The Australian Research Council did a study on this and found that the returns from commercialisation were about 2 per cent of the cost of research. In fact, if unis fully costed their commercialisation outfits, including land and administrative overheads, I suspect that the true figure would be negative.
Second there’s the standard public good argument. The social benefits are greater if the results are free to use.
Third, there’s something I saw on Four Corners a couple of weeks ago. They interviewed a very unattractive character who’s secured a dubious patent on non-coding DNA and is using it to extract license payments from virtually anyone engaged in genetic research. In a breach of previous tradition, he’s going after university researchers. When challenged on this, he made the point that uni research labs were commercial outfits these days and deserved to be treated as such.