Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 18 of Session 2002-03, dated 16 May 2003


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today that DEFRA needs to show much more enthusiasm and strategic leadership in promoting commercialisation of agricultural research.

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 18th Report of this Session, which examined what is being done by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the bodies from which it commissions research, to commercially exploit agriculture related research and development. The Department spends around £100 million on research commissioned through a range of research establishments, including the Department's executive agencies, research institutes, non-departmental public bodies, universities and private companies.

The Committee found that the Department's income from commercialisation is less than 1% of its expenditure on research, suggesting that the Department lacks the leadership and enthusiasm to promote commercialisation. The Department needs to specify the outcomes expected from commercialisation, drawing for example on achievements by research bodies, other departments and universities. It should monitor trends in commercialisation activity to help determine whether enough is being done to identify opportunities for exploitation of research.

Research establishments need to manage actively their research programmes and, as scientists may not have the necessary skills, build up expertise in identifying intellectual property and in negotiating deals to maximise commercialisation opportunities. Research establishments should develop exploitation strategies and report annually to the Department on their success.

Negotiating deals brings specific challenges such as valuing the intellectual property to be exploited, and decisions on the form in which any receipts should be taken, for example equity shares in commercial companies or additional research funding. Research establishments need to obtain expert advice on such matters, which is independent of advice provided to other parties to the transaction.

Balancing efforts to commercialise the results of research with protecting the public interest can be a difficult task. To be exploited, research outcomes need to be attractive to commercial partners, but the incentives available to establishments and to individual scientists should not be such as to distort public research priorities to the benefit of commercial interests. The Department should put in place an explicit risk management strategy for reconciling effective incentives to exploitation with public policy objectives, and should maintain full transparency in its dealings with the private sector.

Mr Leigh said today:

"The results of research commissioned by DEFRA are primarily used to inform policymaking or to provide information for the public good. But the somewhat paltry return of £400,000 a year from expenditure of around £100 million is clear evidence that the Department needs to show much more enthusiasm and strategic leadership in promoting commercialisation.

Research establishments also have a key part to play, as illustrated by the licensing deals struck by the Roslin Institute on the technology which created Dolly the Sheep. Establishments should develop exploitation strategies and their skills in negotiating deals. "

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