- Dr Enrico Bonadio (Co-Investigator)
Mexico and Cuba are two countries with a shared problem: ineffective intellectual property (IP) policies and underdeveloped strategies for linking universities with the local economy. Academics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the University of Havana (UH) are creating extraordinary inventions, but they have little incentive to capitalise on them via IP rights such as Patents and Trademarks. This stops professors and researchers from developing and selling their potentially life-changing medicines and technologies. Local economies miss an opportunity to grow, and universities lose out on a source of funding.
Dr McDonagh and Dr Bonadio from City, University of London know how to help academics use IP rights and entrepreneurship skills to commercialise the inventions they create. In the UK, it’s common for universities to take advantage of IP and the revenue university researchers earn from their inventions spurs the British economy. The revenue flows back into universities like City where it can fund more research. They want the same thing to happen at UNAM and UH. They’ve been working on this project with Dr Ana Alba Betancourt, a Mexican partner at UNAM.
What did we explore and how?
In Mexico, professors can earn points from the National System of Researchers, which promotes scientific research, for getting a patent on their inventions. But they don’t earn any points for doing anything after they’ve got the patent. So there’s a lack of incentive to commercialise the patent within the local economy. Public universities in Mexico are also hesitant to invest funds in their academics’ commercial projects. Researchers typically lack resources and don’t have any motivation to meet with investors. They miss opportunities to keep their research funded as a result.
After meeting with staff at UNAM, Dr McDonagh and Dr Bonadio discovered academics weren't getting much funding for their research from the public universities they worked at. And academics struggle to look for investment elsewhere. One robotics professor complained about a lack of opportunities to create spin-out companies based on university research. Dr McDonagh and Dr Bonadio, along with Dr Alba Betancourt, reacted to this discovery by getting in touch with New Ventures, a Latin American investor network. They explained how hard it was for academics to find funding for their research. New Ventures responded by inviting the robotics professor to a conference in February 2019 where he could meet prospective investors.
As a communist country, Cuba has a state-run economy. As part of the state, UH has a policy to take all the profits from inventions patented by university professors. We spoke to a UH academic who had been involved in two projects that produced patents. Yet, after completing all the application paperwork and seeing the inventions made available to the public, the academic never earned any royalties. The experience made him never want to bother with the process again.
Dr McDonagh and Dr Bonadio met the Vice-Rector of UH in May 2019. They explained how intellectual property policy was discouraging professors from patenting their technology, discussing the academic who patented two inventions without earning any royalties. They then offered to review and assist in rewriting UH’s intellectual property policy. The Vice-Rector accepted.
Benefits and influence of this research
There are more incentives for patenting inventions coming to life in both countries.
Thanks to networking activities, the robotics professor from UNAM received sponsorship from New Ventures to attend the Latin American Impact Investing Forum (FLII) 2019 in Mexico. Several investors made offers to fund the professor’s research. This could help UNAM and spur innovation in Mexico’s wider economy. The economy will benefit from having a new product for consumers to spend cash on and UNAM will earn some of the royalties from the product. They can use the money from royalties to fund more research. Dr McDonagh, Dr Bonadio and Dr Alba Betancourt are now hoping to inspire change at Government level, meeting policymakers from the Innovation Ministry at the State of Jalisco shortly after the New Ventures event.
After rewriting UH’s intellectual property policy, attitudes in Cuba are changing. Now, professors and other university researchers will receive 10% of the royalties from sales of their patented inventions. This will inspire more researchers to patent their new medicines and technologies and the public should benefit from these new inventions.
Dr McDonagh and Dr Bonadio don’t plan on stopping there. Their ambition is to create a patent law network between the UK and Latin America. In addition to Mexico and Cuba they visited five Colombian universities in Bogotá in 2019 to discuss innovation. In 2020 they plan to visit universities in Argentina. The region has many great universities and can become a hub for new, and potentially life-changing, technology.
Innovation can help grow economies and fund university research. With the right network in place, inventorship and entrepreneurship can flourish.
Details of this research
Research status: Ongoing
Topic: intellectual property
Industry/sector: Technology, Law, Politics