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Survey of UK University commercialisation shows a doubling of licensing activity in 2004

The fourth UNICO survey of university commercialisation shows an increase in the total licensing income from £31.3m in 2003 to over £40m in 2004, with the number of licence agreements more than doubling during this period. The recent news that in the past two years alone, 20 spin-outs from UK universities have floated with a combined value of over £1billion, demonstrates the importance of the university sector to the national economy.

The data in this survey for the financial year 2003-2004 are collected from 106 institutions, including 47 of the top 50 UK universities (by research income).

University technology transfer activity in the UK continues to expand and receive the support of the academic community. There is a steady increase in the number of people employed in commercialisation activity, and an increase in the number of invention disclosures. UNICO surveys demonstrate a continuous increase in licensing activity over the last four years. The decrease in the amount of funding allocated to intellectual property protection is, however, of concern and may indicate that some universities are not able to access sufficient funding for this activity.

An increase in the total number of spinouts companies established is reported, although it is noteworthy that compared with last year fewer universities hold shares in their spinouts. This may have been due to the introduction of Part 7, Income Tax Earnings and Pensions Act 2003 (Schedule 22). UNICO worked closely with the Inland Revenue and in December 2004 the problem for academic founders was resolved. 35% of the spinouts established in 2004, raised external investment finance . This indicates that universities are doing a better job of creating "investment ready" ventures attractive to the investment community. Fewer university spinouts, however, are being funded by University Challenge Seed Funds, presumably due to the fact that these funds are drawing to a close. This may lead to a new funding gap.

The survey shows that whilst some UK universities are not engaged in the commercialisation of intellectual property in any substantial way, others are international benchmarks of excellence and commit significant resource to this area of activity. Commercialisation activity in many UK universities is still in its infancy. 30% of participants only started their activities since 2000. A comparison with US universities indicates that UK universities are spinning out more companies, but generate less licence income (per unit of research funding).

The UNICO-produced fourth annual survey of UK university commercialisation activities will be released on 5 December 2006 at UNICO's conference in Oxford.


David Secher, University of Cambridge, (
Nick Bourne, University of Cardiff, (

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