Results of the Neico project in Spain, Italy and France
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Although UPV's technology transfer office had made a number of patent applications before the Neico project, there was no systematic process for evaluating and exploiting inventions. Polimi set up a patent office within the framework of Neico.
niversity researchers are often unaware of the potential of their work for commercial development and exploitation, and of the need to protect their inventions with patents. The two-year Network for European Innovation Co-operation (Neico) project(1), which finished in December, offered participating universities access to four pioneering IP management schemes already in use by individual consortium members. Transfer of such tools to other regions is effective and can lead to the development of successful new IPR programmes.
The UPAS scheme from the Universidad Polytécnica de Valencia (UPV) aims to encourage R&D initiatives and raise researchers' awareness of the commercial value of intellectual property. SAFE is a programme of the Ministry of Research and Education of North-Rhine Westphalia to promote patenting in universities. It offers a method for evaluating research projects and early identification of potential for commercial development. BUS is closely linked to SAFE, and helps inventors to prepare business summaries based on patented results for presentation to potential investors. The fourth scheme, InnoTULI(2), comes from Finntech Finnish Technology Ltd Oy and tests the commercial feasibility of inventions.
Neico's other partner universities and institutes were the University of Bonn's Euroconsult Research & Education, which co-ordinated the project, the Paris-based Ecole Polytechnique (X-Technologies), the Politecnico di Milano (Polimi), Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), Loughborough University and the University of Bielefeld.
The universities chose IPR schemes that filled gaps in their own IP management, later extending them to create new systems. The UPV selected the SAFE model as the basis of its TRIP scheme to evaluate inventions and to structure the process of patenting. Euroconsult's Birgit Wirsing comments: "This was a very important development for the university's technology transfer department, and was so successful that the Ministry of Education and Culture is now supporting its extension to all Spanish universities."
Using SAFE structures, Polimi similarly set up a patent office and has already applied for 13 national patents. The DIT set up its Prospect project using parts of the UPAS scheme. With funding from Enterprise Ireland, Prospect raises awareness of IPR and is enabling market testing of inventions and subsequent business planning.
Neico's partners attracted substantial backing from regional and national authorities. The Valencia TRIP scheme was awarded 50,000 by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Culture, plus 18,000 from regional government. The University of Bielefeld won 63,000 from the North-Rhine Westphalia government. X-Technologies in Paris drew 114,000 over three years from the Département de l'Essonne to implement its X-Invention project, launching new high-tech companies on the basis of patented inventions. It is also developing an incubator to support start-ups, dealing with IPR and sourcing seed finance. Polimi has started to offer some of its patent office services to the whole region of Lombardia, with permanent funding of 80,000 per year.
Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus (TYLCV) weakens the whole tomato plant, causing up to 100% loss of fruit yield. A new rapid method for detecting TYLCV, developed at UPV using genetic engineering, should allow faster treatment and prevent crop losses.
The main problem involved in the transfer of Neico schemes, according to Wirsing, has been the differences between national legal requirements for patent applications. "Spanish universities are exempted from fees for applying for patents, so they try to patent all the inventions," she explains. "In Italy, on the other hand, normal fees are charged, so academic patent applicants are much more selective. Significant adaptations of the Neico schemes were needed to meet partners' individual needs." Wirsing also highlights the barrier presented by the difficult procedures and high costs of obtaining a European patent. "Neico participants are all very much looking forward to the Community patent," she says.
The new Patent Academia network(3) will build on the achievements of Neico, by establishing a network of academic institutions across Europe for benchmarking and exchange of good practices to make the best use of innovation and inventions. "Neico focused on IPR, but Patent Academia has a much wider scope," explains co-ordinator Manfred Schmiemann of the European Commission. "The new project covers entrepreneurship, spin-out companies, incubators, transfer of personnel between participating institutions, training curricula, patent exploitation and licensing." Patent Academia has the unusually long timescale of four years, with a projected start in mid-2001. It will work primarily with the industrial liaison offices of universities but also with other publicly-funded research organisations.
(1) Part of the Innovation Programme of the Fourth Research Framework Programme.
(2) InnoTULI is a registered trademark.
(3) One of four 'Gateway 2 Financing' networks - see 'A New Gateway to Innovation'