THE BIGGEST misconception about Intellectual property (IP) rights and higher education is that it involves research and development only.
As Malaysian higher education becomes more developed, local universities and colleges need to look at protecting their property rights in terms of research, course content and projects.
IP specialist and consultant Renuka Sena says that currently, Malaysians are in a period of transition, moving from being IP users to IP creators, and learning to come to grips with the technicalities involved in acquiring IP.
“We (Malaysians) are slowly becoming IP creators and looking into protecting our products and creations.
“Thus far, IP is looked at as a legal area but it is also business and technology related as well.
“In higher education, the greatest misconception is that IP is relevant only in R&D efforts and deals only with copyright.
“Although local universities and many established colleges are already developing their own academic programmes, how many are actually protecting their intellectual creations?
“Unfortunately, only a few,” adds Renuka, who is also the chief executive officer of Mindvault, an IP and Intellectual Asset Management consultancy based in Kuala Lumpur.
IP, she explains, encompasses patents, copyrights or trademarkrights. It offers protection for all sorts of intellectual creations, both tangible and intangible.
Services, inventions and discoveries all qualify for IP protection.
This is especially pertinent in higher education as local universities venture more into research, and private colleges brand their programmes abroad and open branch campuses overseas.
“At the moment, most universities and higher education institutions do not have specific guidelines or policies regarding IP. The guidelines are on a very ad-hoc basis, either at faculty or department level.
“Academic programmes or courses, assessments, projects? all these are intellectual content that should be protected with IP.
“Some universities are beginning to identify policies that encapsulate IP,” she adds.
What higher education institutions need to do first is to conduct an IP audit to list out material or products they have produced or own, against those which they share with their partners.
“Many education institutions have partnerships with foreign universities.
“In such instances, there are products which are shared or borrowed. For example, if you have a tie-up with another university, how far (if at all) are you allowed to develop your own coursework?
“It is important to make an inventory so that you do not infringe on the rights of others.
“It is also important to look at existing IP policies, employment policies and contracts,” says Renuka.
A further problem, she observes, is that most academics are not “IP savvy” as the field is still under-developed in Malaysia.
“Most university dons gush about their research and discoveries but are not interested if you ask them to come up with a business plan. They are absorbed in their work, regardless of whether it is industry relevant or not.
“There is, of course, research that is done just for the sake of research and that is fine. But there is also research done for commercial purposes.
“For these projects to be viable, universities must be in contact with industry to determine if there will be industry acceptance of their research.”
Another stumbling block is the lack of clear incentives for researchers, and the disconnected approach to research and development projects.
A member of the Technopreneurs Association of Malaysia (TeAM) – which looks after the interests of technopreneurs and assists in the development of the country’s digital economy – and an active member of the government’s Cradle Investment Programme, Renuka and her associates at Mindvault hope to raise awareness about the importance of IP protection among the higher education fraternity.
“I have visited several universities and higher education institutions, and feedback shows that bureaucracy needs to be reduced and policy adjustments made to motivate staff,” says Renuka.
“The policies suggest that year-end bonuses and promotions are based on how widely published academics are.
“When this is emphasised, naturally the focus will be on publication and not research,” she adds.
Mindvault runs clinics on business planning and IP protection. It also conducts IP audits and monitors risks and assesses R&D potential for universities and higher education institutions.
Mindvest has organised clinics for institutions such as the Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology, Multimedia University and University Malaysia Sarawak.