Is university ownership a sub-optimal property rights regime for commercialisation? Information conditions and entrepreneurship in Greater Manchester, England
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In an era where knowledge constitutes a key source of innovation and sustainable competitive advantage, universities are viewed increasingly as engines of growth. This is because they are places where research outcomes that may lead to radical or disruptive changes to practice are produced. Cognisant of this, and its implications for economic development, policy-makers conferred ownership of research outcomes to universities as a means of facilitating commercialisation. This paper, alongside a growing body of literature, questions the prevailing property rights regime, positing that it is sub-optimal in terms of reducing societal benefits coming from commercialisation. More specifically, drawing on the experience of Greater Manchester (England), this paper argues that university ownership implications on the availability of information used in commercialisation decisions. The detachment of entrepreneurs, a direct consequence of property rights, in the transition from disclosure to patenting means that it is not the transfer of technical information (as suggested in the literature) that constitutes the main challenge. Instead, this paper suggests it is ‘unknowledge’ i.e. information that has yet to be generated in the introduction of something new that impacts commercialisation. The paper suggests that, rather paradoxically, entrepreneurial engagement may be best attained.
KeywordsCommercialisation Property rights Information University Uncertainty Entrepreneurship
JEL ClassificationO32 O34 D83 L26
This paper was written whilst I was a visiting scholar at the Ostrom Workshop, University of Indiana, Bloomington. I am grateful to colleagues at the Workshop for their constructive comments. I would like to acknowledge particularly the suggestions and criticisms of Professor Mike McGinnis who acted as my mentor during my period of stay at Bloomington. I would also like thank to acknowledge the constructive comments of the reviewers and the associate editor. However, the views expressed here are those of the author.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflicts of interest
Part of the data, clearly identified in the Methodology Section of this paper, was collected as part of an externally funded project funded by the EU, under the INTERREG IVC Programme. The author was the lead investigator. There are no financial conflicts of interest. Regarding non-financial conflicts of interest, it must be reported here that the author was employed by one of five higher education institutions located in Greater Manchester and examined. The author was in the employment of the University during part of the data collection process (the INTERREG IVC element in particular). This was a large organisation employing (at the time) around 1000 staff and the author did not have any personal involvement (or interest) in commercialisation and or contract research with commercial organisations (the pathways at the heart of this study). This was also the case for the academic department where he worked. No interviews were conducted with academic or support staff of the department where the author worked. The author worked at a different higher education institution when the remainder of the data was collected, analysed, and the paper was written up. Part of the data were collected through interviews with pro vice-chancellors, academics, and business support professionals, R&D managers in enterprises and policy decision makers. They provided information of their experiences of knowledge generation and transfer (in the employment roles they performed). Thus, a modest amount of personal and no medical data was collected. When initial contacted was established, the participants were informed of their ability to decline to participate in whole or part of the interview process or withdraw conset at any time. A statement (reiterating these points) was also read to participants prior to the conduct of the interview and their explicit consent was sought.
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