The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI, the UK’s leading association for pharmaceutical companies), has published a report  addressing ways in which the UK might further foster international collaborative research, as part of the UK Government's broader aim to become a "global science superpower". Central to that aim, according to the ABPI, is the need for an international approach to "efficient and collaborative research administration" in university-business collaborations. It is this aspect of the report that we consider in this blog post.
What does the report recommend?
The report claims that "administrative hurdles" associated with university-business collaborations can disincentivise innovation. In particular, the competing interests of universities and businesses can lead to time-consuming and costly negotiations as to the terms of university-business collaboration agreements. This is especially so in discussions about where rights to any resulting IP should lie.
The ABPI considers that these discussions could be streamlined by adopting a standardised, international base for negotiations. More specifically, the ABPI makes the following four recommendations to the Government in its report :
- The UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO, the UK's intellectual property registry) International IP Service should focus on supporting commercialisation through cross-border collaborations;
- The Lambert Toolkit  (a set of model contracts and guidance for Industry-University collaboration published by the UK Government in 2003) should be reviewed, to include recommendations on how to work with other countries/multilateral organisations to improve international research administration.
- The UK Government’s ongoing Review of Research Bureaucracy should work with academia and industry to assess governance processes relating to university-industry R&D; and
- The UK Government Office for Technology Transfer should work closely with industry to better connections between life sciences innovators in the private and public sectors, and in academia.
What is new about these recommendations?
The hurdles identified by the ABPI report are not new, and previous attempts have been made to address them. Indeed, the Lambert Review  and subsequent Toolkit was aimed precisely at minimising the administrative burden of university-business collaborations, by creating standard model agreements. At an international level, WIPO's Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CPID) has proposed "seven steps"  for facilitating international collaborations, which include drafting common, workable model agreements.
What, then, does the ABPI report add to the discussion?
One contribution is the strong call for a common international approach. The report points out that the Covid pandemic has demonstrated the success of international collaboration, and that some 55% of recent UK research publications have been the result of an international collaboration. The ABPI warns that the UK risks falling behind competitors such as the US, Korea and China in discovery and early research programmes (China has grown its share of global research publications from 5% in 2008 to 20% in 2018).
Another, for the UK, is in recognising that the Lambert Toolkit has only gone so far in reducing administrative burdens, especially in the cross-border context. A 2013 Review of the Toolkit  claimed that it was underutilised by large companies, who preferred to rely on their own model agreements, while the SMEs who might benefit most from it were often unaware of its existence. The Interim Report  of the Review of Research Bureaucracy  suggested that the underutilisation of existing template agreements might show that they are "no longer fit for purpose".
The ABPI's call for a common international approach to the administration of university-business collaborations should of course be welcomed, and we await a response from the Government as to whether and how it will put this into motion.
That said, there are actions that Industry and Universities could take now to improve the administration of international collaborations, without the need for Government intervention. It would be useful, for example, to compare common approaches to university-business collaborations in different countries, and to consider synergies and differences between those approaches. If a gap can be identified between different approaches on the international stage then steps could be taken to narrow that gap. It might even be that there is little gap at all.
"Building the UK's international research collaborations" (February 2022), Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, https://www.abpi.org.uk/media/r3weo23a/report-building-uks-international-research-collaborations.pdf?utm_medium=email&_hsmi=205066332&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8exPHRn2e4gOrCxtY4cGv9sVYi3ywin-MwTgpSs-RRr8ZKB7WP8O6K4hOwmgLLg2zzxypuKjC-KI2odcDZZivCMYAzLg&utm_content=205066332&utm_source=hs_email
"Models of Intellectual Property (IP) Related Contracts for Universities and Publically-Funded Research Institutions" (2016), Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP): Seventeenth Session, https://www.wipo.int/edocs/mdocs/mdocs/en/cdip_17/cdip_17_inf_3.pdf
 "Collaborative Research between Business and Universities: The Lambert Toolkit 8 Years on" (2013), Intellectual Property Office: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/311757/ipresearch-lambert.pdf
"Independent Review of Research Bureaucracy – Interim Report" (January 2022), Professor Adam Tickell, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1046070/independent-review-of-research-bureaucracy-interim-report.pdf
 See for information: "Review of research bureaucracy: terms of reference", Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-research-bureaucracy/review-of-research-bureaucracy-terms-of-reference