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Pharma dominates university patenting

A report on patenting in the UK has found that universities account for 25 per cent of UK pharmaceutical patents compared to just 6 per cent of all other patents.

Worldwide, universities own around 10 to 12 per cent of all pharma patents, making UK universities more than twice as prolific as the average, says the study by Cambridge-based consultancies Technologia Ltd and Patanalyse.

Published on 24 November, “Patenting in the UK” is based on a database of all patents filed by UK inventors, including those filed worldwide, between 2007 and 2011.

According to the report, Oxford tops the table of patenting universities, producing more than 120 over this period. It is followed by Imperial College London, Cambridge University and University College London.

Scottish institutions also feature prominently with Edinburgh, Dundee, Strathclyde and Aberdeen placed in the top 22 universities.

UK universities’ emphasis on bio-pharmaceuticals is probably related to the financing of life science activities by government and government agencies, says the report, which notes that the implications of this have yet to be realised.

“The special characteristics of pharma have not been sufficiently taken into account in the formulation of policies around university knowledge transfer,” reads the report.

Meanwhile, dominance of bio-pharmaceuticals in university patenting is not mirrored in industry. According to the analysis, patenting within industry is dominated by heavy industry, plastics and electronics firms.

According to the report, patenting is relatively concentrated, with the top 30 companies accounting for 26 per cent of all UK-originated patents, particularly clustered around chemicals and pharmaceuticals; engineering, defence and aerospace; and electronics and software.

Rolls Royce is the most prolific company for producing patents, followed by IBM, NXP Superconductors, Unilever and BAE Systems, says the report.

Engineering firm Dyson also has a remarkably high patent output for its size, it notes, patenting more than some companies that are ten times larger.

The report shows that R&D spending per patent was approximately the same across most industries, at £2 million. However, the relevance and importance of patenting varies considerably, depending on which stage of R&D the companies carry out and in which field, it adds.

“It is easy to understand why companies heavily involved in service development like the Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Barclays, Reed Elsevier, Sage, Tesco and Thomson Reuters have gained very few—less than 25 patents invented in UK since 2007—while recording more than £7.5 billion of R&D spend over the same period,” reads the report.