Industry and government need to do better when it comes to research commercialisation

UK has to up its game when it comes to reaping the full benefits of our university research, say MPs

Posted 14 March 2017 at 9:42am by

Business needs to up its Research and Development (R&D) game if promising British university research is to be transformed into successful commercial products.

The warning’s from the latest report from the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee.

The MPs say that managing intellectual property and technology transfer is still something the UK struggles with.

But it’s not just the commercial sector that needs to find new ways of making technology transfer effective; the soon-to-be-established UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) resource should take “a pivotal” role in developing and sharing good practice in commercialising university research, says the study.

“Without a healthy commercial demand for R&D, the scope for universities to engage more in technology transfer is limited,” said the Committee’s chair, Stephen Metcalfe MP.

“Progress on this front is disappointing. The overall R&D intensity of the UK business sector is still too low compared to other OECD countries [and] encouraging British business to invest more in UK R&D should be a key goal of the Government’s Industrial Strategy,” he added.

Metcalfe also says that the government’s review of R&D tax credits should be taken as an opportunity to simplify the rules for both SMEs and larger firms “so that they explicitly support business R&D in collaboration with universities”.

While noting a lot of progress, Metcalfe and his cross-party colleagues does find a lot that could be improved in commercialisation.

It is concerned, foe example, that previous attempts to increase research commercialisation disproportionately have tended to focus on the ‘supply’ of research by universities, rather than on the level of ‘demand’ from businesses.

R&D tax credits were highlighted in the inquiry as an important tool that could stimulate and incentivise spending on R&D, though both the eligibility and claims process were identified as complex, the Committee also believes.

Commenting on the findings, Felicity Burch, Head of Digital and Innovation at employer group the CBI, noted that, “The UK lags behind competitors on R&D spending, so the Committee hits the right note in its call for more investment. In this, the private sector and government both have a major role to play.

“Collaboration between businesses and universities can help the UK make a better job of not just delivering ground-breaking research here, but also commercialising those products.

“Making this a reality is a complex task, and so the Committee rightly highlights the value of the R&D tax credit and grants to business.”