Review finds conflicts of interest relating to intellectual property in third level sector

The review recommended that third level institutions take more responsibility for their conflicts of interest.

  A review of into the sale of intellectual properties by higher education institutions recommended that universities take more responsibility regarding the management of conflict of interests relating to their intellectual property.

Concerns were raised over potential conflicts of interest in the higher education sector at the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee last year, particularly where researchers are also shareholders in companies that are eventually sold for large amounts. These concerns prompted the independent investigation.

The key recommendation of the review was more governance and management of conflict of interest on the behalf of higher education institutions. The review states that these institutions must take more responsibility to put procedures in place at a senior level to manage the approach taken in relation to conflicts of interest.

The Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee found that all higher education institutions had an intellectual property policy in place, but the HEA informed the committee that it was not sure if these policies are being implemented. Therefore, the review recommended that all higher education institutions have a single conflict of interest policy, which is regularly revised by the governing body and is accessible.

Of the 22 higher education institutions reviewed, 52 documents in total provided some information regarding conflict of interest and the majority did not specify when the policies will be updated. Only seven higher education institutions provided complete information about the actions to be taken following a report of conflicts or how they may be resolved.

Moreover, the age of these conflict of interest policies was criticised, with ten being between five to ten years old. Trinity, which was among the institutions analysed for the report, released a conflict of interest policy in 2015.

The review states that knowledge transfer and intellectual property is “a key mission of higher education institutions”.The benefits cited were the training of doctoral researchers, as well as the improvement in the higher education authorities reputations and rankings.The Public Accounts Committee also recommended that the commercialisation of intellectual property be maximized in order to cover the entire cost of the research undertaken.

HEA Chief Executive, Graham Love, stated: “the implementation of the recommendations of this review will result in simple and more accessible intellectual property policies and more robust management procedures”.

Higher Education Authority (HEA) and Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI) appointed IP Pragmatics Ltd to carry out the review of intellectual property policies and their implementation within higher education institution as well as the management of conflicts of interests that may arise regarding the commercialisation of intellectual property.  IP Pragmatics’ findings were based on analysis of relevant institutional policies and in-depth interviews.