13 September 2023

The UK’s 50 biggest universities filed 433 new patent applications last year

Data and commentary provided by Mathys & Squire has featured in an article by Tech.EU and Life Sciences Intellectual Property Review providing an update on the rise of patent applications submitted by universities.

An extended version of the press release is available below.

The UK’s 50 largest universities* filed 433 new patent applications last year**, shows new research from Mathys & Squire, the leading intellectual property law firm, as they increasingly commercialise the output of their research programmes.

Iain Armstrong, Partner at Mathys & Squire, says UK universities have made substantial efforts in recent years to both increase the commercial value of their research work and to protect this IP through patent applications.

The impact of university generated IP has been noticeable in areas such as material science, biotech and pharmaceuticals. For example, the UK’s first approved COVID vaccine was developed at Oxford University.

Largely centered around Cambridge University, Cambridge has become one of Europe’s most successful technology clusters, home to 12 companies valued at more than $1 billion, including pharmaceutical giant, AstraZeneca.

Cambridge University has acted as catalyst for many of these companies, with output either directly based on research produced by the university or in collaboration with research teams. Others are founded or staffed by Cambridge alumni.

The most prolific UK university, in terms of patent filings, last year was the University of Oxford. Oxford University Innovation, who manage the university’s IP, have an admirable track record of successfully launching spinout businesses and attracting investment based on the university’s IP. The university has built up a reputation as a leader in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals***.

Many of the patent applications filed by UK universities are in areas in which technological progress is in high demand. This includes nanotechnology, green technology and artificial intelligence.

Universities in the US still lead the way for IP innovation. The most prolific filer of patent applications last year were Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, which filed 329 and 247 applications respectively.

Legislation such as the Bayh-Dole Act has helped the US lead the way in patent filings. The act creates an arrangement where the government have a quick route into protecting US technology by giving patent ownership to the university. In turn, the university is incentivised to take full ownership through a slice of royalties for a project it didn’t need to fund****.

Iain Armstrong says the UK Government should consider taking a leaf from the US Government’s book, increasing support for financing IP innovation, taking inspiration from schemes that are available to US academic and research institutions.

Iain Armstrong, says: “The past few decades have seen UK universities progress leaps and bounds in turning their research into intellectual property.”

“UK universities are home to some of the world’s brightest minds but there is clearly more potential to be unlocked. Helping remove some of the red tape and providing much needed funding would go a long way towards helping the UK catch up with the US.”

“Utilising universities’ ability to produce intellectual property and work alongside businesses is something the United States is particularly good at. It wouldn’t hurt for the UK Government to consider taking a leaf from their book.”

*By number of students

**Year end September 30 2022, research used WIPO patentscope

***Oxford University Innovation

****Syracuse University

*Year-end December 31