IET President Professor Andy Hopper

IET President calls for SMEs to be given access to university IP

The new president of the IET, Professor Andy Hopper CBE, has urged the government to allow SMEs open access to intellectual property (IP) created in universities.

Leading Cambridge academic Professor Andy Hopper CBE explained this morning on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme that research funded by public funds should be freely available to small and medium-sized businesses and that this could be a vital component of future economic growth.

Professor Hopper, who is professor of computer technology and heads the computer laboratory at Cambridge University, will use his inaugural address as president of the IET, Europe's largest professional society of engineers and technicians, to call for this shakeup of IP policy at UK universities.

“Tax payers are already funding the creation of innovative intellectual property in our universities, so it seems reasonable to make it more freely available to UK SMEs that are best positioned to add value and commercialise it," he said.

“Universities should be encouraged and incentivised to kick-start the development of new technologies and products by openly assigning the required IP to dynamic British businesses at minimal extra cost.

“In return, maybe the university could get a one or two per cent shareholding – more of a goodwill gesture than a conventional transaction.”

Professor Hopper, whose inaugural address entitled 'A Perspective on Innovation' will take place tonight in central London at IET London: Savoy Place, said he believed these steps would be a big boost for the economy.

He will also use his speech to call on the government to create a role of chief engineering and technology adviser in order to ensure that national infrastructure projects get the expertise they desperately need and also to enable the UK to harness advances in technology.

With a raft of massive engineering projects – such as smart grids, High Speed 2, faster broadband networks and new or expanded airports – in the pipeline, Professor Hopper believes that the lack of engineers at senior levels in government is “the elephant in the room”.

Professor Hopper also wants to see more engineering advisers embedded in government, following the recent example of the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

“In the UK, engineering is still undervalued despite our rich industrial heritage and track record in pioneering new technologies," he said.

"This is reflected in the make-up of the government and must change to help turn around the UK economy.

“The UK government has a complete absence of engineers in the Cabinet and poor representation across Parliament and the Civil Service.

"With the success of so much future policy based around engineering and technology, I believe it is time for the government to draw on the knowledge and experience of the UK’s best engineering talent at the highest levels.  

“I am calling on the government to follow the example of the many British companies that have realised technology irrevocably underpins their competitiveness, efficiency and future success and have appointed CTOs to their boards.

"It is high time that we had a CTO for UK plc.”

Professor Hopper is also a serial entrepreneur who has co-founded a dozen start-up companies, three of which have floated on stock markets.

His early ventures included collaborations with Hermann Hauser at Acorn Computers and the Olivetti Research Laboratory.

Professor Hopper has been involved in setting up companies such as Virata, which achieved 40 per cent of the global chip market for DSL and broadband wireless devices and more recently, Ubisense, which  has developed innovative location and asset tracking technology.

He is also chairman of RealVNC and Ubisense, both born out of research by Cambridge University Graduates and both winners of two Queen’s Awards for Innovation and International Trade.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, and in 2007 was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to the computer industry.

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