26 July 2015

Business University Collaboration - the Yorkshire Innovation Fund

Yesterday the Yorkshire Innovation Fund started to follow me on twitter so I thought that the least I could do was to check it out. It describes itself on its home page as "a way of funding new ideas within your business" and explains:
"Many new ideas require a blend of skills and expertise to get them off the ground and working with a local university can often help by providing access to expertise, specialist equipment or facilities or new talent to develop your idea. YIF funds this access."
In other words, it puts up the money to pay for R & D and other work carried out by one of its partner universities which seem to include most of the universities in Yorkshire with the notable exception of the University of Sheffield.

Available Funding
According to the Is my company in an eligible sector? page of its website
"The Yorkshire Innovation Fund is available to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the Yorkshire region from the following areas:
  • Advanced manufacturing, engineering & materials
  • Bio-renewables (feedstocks, raw materials and ingredients)
  • Healthcare technologies
  • Low carbon energy (e.g. wind, nuclear, carbon capture & storage, bio-fuel)
  • Bioscience
  • Creative and digital 
  • Chemicals
  • Financial and business services
  • Food and drink
  • Sport (South Yorkshire SMEs only)"
On the What types of project has YIF supported? page the website mentions small innovation projects up to £10,000, research and development projects up to £31,000 and strategic intervention for which no figure is given. Detailed case studies of projects that the Fund has supported in the past can be downloaded from the Projects YIF has funded page on its website.

Funding for New Projects
This would seem to be a good port of call for many of the entrepreneurs and inventors I have seen in my IP clinics and the Leeds and Sheffield inventors clubs over the years except for this warning that appears on the home page:
"YIF is currently unable to commence any new projects with regional SMEs and is exploring new funding opportunities to support collaborative projects in the future."
We must hope that this is only a temporary hiccup and that the Fund will refill its coffers soon. It must be remembered that this is only one funding option among many and that I discussed some of the other options in Business Funding in Leeds City Region on 1 June 2015.

Issues to consider when Negotiating with a University
If a business does commission a university to do some work for it, its management should give some thought as to
  • the ownership and rights to use the results of the project
  • the financial and other contributions made by the commercial sponsor
  • the university’s use of the results for academic purposes.
It may come as a shock to readers that a not insignificant part of my work as a member of the IP bar is taken up with negotiating those issues with, and occasionally on behalf of, universities and resolving disputes over those issues once the work has been completed.

The Lambert Agreements
At the beginning of the present millennium Mr Gordon Brown who was then the Chancellor of the Exchequer commissioned Sir Richard Lambert (as he now is) to review collaboration between businesses and universities. In his Final Report which was published in December 2003 Sir Richard identified concern over those issues as one of the impediments to such collaboration. To allay those concerns the Chancellor asked Sir Richard to hold further meetings with stakeholders to develop model contracts for such collaboration and I actually participated in one of those sessions, The result has been a number of model agreements which are explained in The Lambert Toolkit. The Intellectual Property Office has helpfully provided a Decision Guide to help negotiators choose the right contract.

Need for Caution
Although it is a lot easier than it was dealings between universities and businesses are still tricky largely because academics and businessmen have different interests and come from different cultures. Universities have become pretty savvy of late and they have access to good and experienced legal and accounting advice. Entrepreneurs are often at a distinct disadvantage (especially in the early days of their business careers) and they need all the professional help they can get.

Should any reader want to discuss this article or requires advice on business-university collaboration or funding in general, he or she should call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or contact me through this form.