Universities, innovation and patents

21 May 2013 - No comments »

EPO President Benoît BattistelliThe tasks of a patent office include the dissemination of patent information as well as the examination of patent applications. To me, the former is just as important as the latter. The EPO puts particular emphasis on this aspect of its mission and has devoted considerable human and technical resources to facilitating public access to patent information. Universities have been one of the main targets of these efforts: the European Patent Academy has organised numerous patent training courses for the academic world and has developed a range of dedicated training materials  for this area. Nevertheless, recent studies show that university students still find it difficult to relate their field of study to IP in general and to patents in particular, and fail to appreciate how they individually could benefit from the wealth of technical information contained in patent documents. Once more, we see that raising awareness of patents and patent information among the many different groups of patent system users across Europe represents a real challenge.

To address this situation, the EPO, together with the national patent offices of its contracting states, recently launched an Innovation Contest. University students at all levels were invited to define a research project of potential interest for future R&D in one of the following fields:

  • sustainable food production;
  • eco-friendly energy production and storage;
  • waste management, recycling and urban mining;
  • smart transport and traffic management systems;
  • or smart house technology.

The students were asked to provide a description of a technical problem in their field of choice, a presentation of the relevant state of the art and a general account of the market potential for their proposed project. The response to this has been excellent, with a large number of submissions containing a wealth of innovative ideas.

Only a few of the contestants have been previously involved in filing a patent application, or have significant experience of using the technical information available in patent documents. A distance learning programme has therefore been set up to assist them in developing their ideas and show them how to make the best use of patent information for their respective projects. From the proposals originally submitted, 64 were selected by the national patent offices as finalists, and nearly 100 students from all over Europe, working either alone or in teams, are now in the process of fine-tuning their proposals for submission by 13 July. An international jury will then select the winners in each of the above-mentioned categories. The five winners will receive an award and have the opportunity to present their innovative ideas to an audience of distinguished guests at the academic symposium, taking place on 17 October 2013 in Munich, which will be the culminating event in the celebrations marking 40 years of the European Patent Convention.

A further initiative worthy of mention is the conference on Creating Markets from Research Results, organised in co-operation with the OECD and the Technical University of Munich, which took place at the EPO two weeks ago. The purpose of the conference was to explore new strategies and address policy issues emerging in connection with the exploitation and commercialisation of research in publicly funded institutions. The event was a great success, offering a valuable platform for the exchange of views and experience among the 300 participants from more than 40 countries. Those attending included decision-makers from academia, business, ministries, government funding and innovation agencies and technology transfer offices, as well as senior representatives of national patent offices.

According to the OECD, the winning formula for universities would appear to be “an entrepreneurial culture based on academic knowledge”, which could involve placing as much emphasis on student entrepreneurs as on academic researchers. It was also pointed out during the conference that students who learn about IP in universities have a clear edge in the job market. A report of the conference will be available soon on the EPO website.

Benoît Battistelli

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