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PLoS One. 2014 Mar 14;9(3):e90302. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090302. eCollection 2014.

Industry-university collaborations in Canada, Japan, the UK and USA--with emphasis on publication freedom and managing the intellectual property lock-up problem.

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University of Tokyo, Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST), Tokyo, Japan.
Ross, Mongeon, Covello & Co., London, Ontario, Canada; Office of Research Contracts and Intellectual Property, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, United States of America.
Manchester Knowledge Capital, Ltd., Manchester, United Kingdom; Council for Industry and Higher Education, London, United Kingdom.
Council for Industry and Higher Education, London, United Kingdom.


As industry-university collaborations are promoted to commercialize university research and foster economic growth, it is important to understand how companies benefit from these collaborations, and to ensure that resulting academic discoveries are developed for the benefit of all stakeholders: companies, universities and public. Lock up of inventions, and censoring of academic publications, should be avoided if feasible. This case-study analysis of interviews with 90 companies in Canada, Japan, the UK and USA assesses the scope of this challenge and suggests possible resolutions. The participating companies were asked to describe an important interaction with universities, and most described collaborative research. The most frequently cited tensions concerned intellectual property management and publication freedom. IP disagreements were most frequent in the context of narrowly-focused collaborations with American universities. However, in the case of exploratory research, companies accepted the IP management practices of US universities. It might make sense to let companies have an automatic exclusive license to IP from narrowly defined collaborations, but to encourage universities to manage inventions from exploratory collaborations to ensure development incentives. Although Canada, the UK and US have strong publication freedom guarantees, tensions over this issue arose frequently in focused collaborations, though were rare in exploratory collaborations. The UK Lambert Agreements give sponsors the option to control publications in return for paying the full economic cost of a project. This may offer a model for the other three countries. Uniquely among the four countries, Japan enables companies to control exclusively most collaborative inventions and to censor academic publications. Despite this high degree of control, the interviews suggest many companies do not develop university discoveries to their full potential. The steps suggested above may rebalance the situation in Japan. Overall, the interviews reveal the complexity of these issues and the need for flexibility on the part of universities and companies.

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