Academic journal article Health Law Journal

Strategies for Dissemination of University Knowledge

Academic journal article Health Law Journal

Strategies for Dissemination of University Knowledge

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Knowledge dissemination has always been a key component of the university mission. A range of values underpin this. First, and perhaps most importantly, knowledge dissemination has high social value. Knowledge is a public good that is non-rivalrous and non-excludable. (1) Knowledge also has academic value. The quest for new knowledge and knowledge dissemination are central to the norms of science. (2) It also has practical value. Dissemination of knowledge in the form of high quality academic publications and conference proceedings is a measure of success, both for the university and for the individual researcher. Knowledge generation and transfer is what we, as academics, do. It is our core business.

Perhaps the one key value that is missing from this equation is commercial value. Traditional forms of knowledge dissemination do not have direct commercial value, although this may ultimately eventuate as the result of uptake of knowledge from the public domain by industry. However, it is difficult if not impossible to predict what public knowledge will be taken up by industry in advance. (3) As Dasgupta and David point out:

   The economic value of basic science is difficult to forecast, or
   even to gauge in retrospect. Economic payoffs entrained by
   scientific discoveries may come quickly, but more often are not
   realised for a long time. Since basic research occurs on the
   frontiers of knowledge, its outcomes are highly uncertain. (4)

Over time, the need to capture the more immediate commercial value of knowledge created in universities has increasingly been recognised by universities themselves, by governments and funding agencies, and by industry. (5) Government funding, tax relief and propertisation of knowledge are some of the possible mechanisms that have been suggested for encouraging the commercial dissemination of university knowledge to industry. (6) The favoured model focuses very much on the propertisation of knowledge through linear path from knowledge creation to disclosure to patenting to licensing or the creation of a spin off company to commercially develop the research. (7) This is particularly the case in biotechnology, where moves to commercialise university knowledge in the late 20th century coincided with relaxation of the thresholds for patenting of inventions relating to gene sequences and other research tools, many of which were created in the university environment. These events led to a flood of patent applications by universities and other public sector organizations in this field. (8)

The primary justification for adding commercial value as a component of the university mission relating to the dissemination of knowledge is that it promotes technological development for the benefit of society as a whole. Technological development is seen as being good for society from both the economic and the social perspective. This policy of merging of basic research and applied technology, particularly in the area of biotechnology, is common throughout the industrialised world. (9)

It is now over a quarter of a century since this drive to commercialise university knowledge commenced in earnest in many industrialised nations (and even longer in the U.S.). (10) It seems appropriate, then, to engage in an analysis of the outcomes of this commercialisation strategy to date and to make an assessment of the value of this and other strategies for achieving optimal dissemination of university knowledge. In biotechnology, there is no doubt that the commercialisation drive and relaxation of patenting standards occurred in parallel with a surge in the number of biotechnology firms entering the field. However, the causative links between these events continue to be debated, (11) as do their benefits and costs in terms of dissemination of knowledge and innovation. (12)

In this paper, I explore some of the implications of the movement to attach commercial value to university knowledge dissemination. …

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