Professor Niva Elkin-Koren of Haifa University slammed the practice of giving inventors in academia a share of the royalties of their inventions. We disagree with her politically and economically, in that we believe that the current practice encourages collaboration between industry and academia. It provides industrial sponsorship of post graduate students and generates jobs. University towns spawn incubators which spawn hi tech industrial parks. Jobs are created at all levels, from guard duty and cleaning services, through administration and technical support, to subcontracting. Since the filthy rich pay about half their income in taxes, the government does quite well out of current practices. We all benefit.
Professor Koren was speaking at the IP@Work Conference co-sponsored by the Reinhold Cohen Group and the IDC Herzliya. Somewhat worryingly, Professor Koren justified her stance with ‘facts’ such as the delays in publishing resulting from patenting and also went on to claim that the Universities are major patent infringers. In practice filing patent applications can take place within a week or two, and, where there is sufficient justification to drop everything else, on many occasions we have filed full applications on the same day that we received an order. Where this is impossible, a provisional application may be filed in the US, consisting of the scientific paper to be published together with a couple of general claims. In contradistinction, scientific papers usually take months to get through the peer review process. Regarding the claim that the Universities are major patent infringers, we would appreciate any comments from our subscribers. Certainly Professor Elkin-Koren did not provide any evidence whatsoever to support this contentious position.
Professor Elkin-Koren clearly supports the law proposal sponsored in October 2004 by eight Knesset members led by Ophir Pines Paz, that is designed “to promote knowledge and technology transfer to benefit the population”.
Under current practice, around 50% of the royalties generated by a patent based on the invention of Israeli academics is shared between the inventors. Although many patent applications fall by the wayside, once in a while, the gold bearing lode is struck and innovative Israeli academics can become very rich indeed. Copaxone and Rebif are two drugs for the treatment of genetic illnesses that are based on research conducted at Wiezmann. Exelon for the treatment of Alzheimer and Doxil for the treatment of cancer are medicines that are based on patents filed by the Hebrew University. Their combined sales totaled over 20 billion dollars in 2003.
Nor is it just pharmaceuticals. An encryption algorithm developed at the Weizmann Institute and commercialized by NDS, probably Jerusalem’s most successful high tech industry, brought in revenues of 250 million dollars that year.
Although royalty sharing with inventors was pioneered by Israel, some 25 years ago US academics received similar privileges and Europe and Japan have followed suit. If the new law is passed, the incentive to file patents will be lost. It may simply deter Israeli academics from filing patent applications prior to publishing papers, and their universities, Israeli industry and the economy as a whole will suffer.
Alternatively, since most Israeli professors researching in applied science spend a couple of months a year abroad anyway, they may simply file patents through the US universities where they spend their summers.
This is not merely conjecture. The most significant British inventor of the 20th Century, Sir Frank Whittle, the originator and pioneer of the jet engine was poorly treated by the British Government. He eventually emigrated to the US, and was awarded a professorship at the US Naval College and consulted to US airplane manufacturers. Cambridge university, Rolls Royce aero-engines and the British economy as a whole suffered as a result.