The ownership of innovation

Published online 13 March 2014

Non-European research partners participating in projects under the auspices of the Horizon 2020 initiative, are not being attributed equal ownership of intellectual property of the science.

Rehab Abd Almohsen

The EU launched its 2014–2020 framework programme, Horizon 2020, last month – an €80 billion (US$109 billion) initiative to fund collaborative research and innovation. The programme aims to improve Europe's global competitiveness, create employment and bring more good ideas to the market. It will run from 2014 to 2020, replacing the Framework Programme 7 scheme.

Such programmes, however, have been criticized by some researchers for reportedly not giving an equal share of ownership to participating research partners outside the EU.

"There are very few cases where the non-European partner claim part of the ownership, most of the time the ownership goes to the EU and EU partners," says Sherif El-Khamisy, a visiting senior research fellow at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom, and a professor at Zewail City of Science and Technology, Egypt.

El-Khamisy, who was a reviewer at the last EU competitive research grant, suggests "allocating a quota of the competitive grant to the Arab countries or MENA region."

But as long as non-European researchers are the party who need to collaborate with the EU, the latter will retain control of the arrangements, including ownership of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), he explains.

Jauad El Kharraz, the general secretary of Arab World Association of Young Scientists, agrees that the IPR is a thorny issue. "Ownership is kept for the participant who generates results or products and a joint ownership is applied only in specific circumstances. MENA researchers can only be partners in those EU research projects, and cannot coordinate them."

We need to convince the EU partner to accept the idea of co-funding the projects.

Many obstacles face them when applying to the EU's research call for projects, including the absence of clear national or regional research directives and policies to help them focus on areas of priority where economic and development challenges could be tackled, he adds.

"In many cases, it seems like MENA researchers are participating as individuals in projects and are cut off from the policies and strategies on research and science in their countries."

Declan Kirrane, managing director of ISC Intelligence in Science in Brussels, believes that part of the solution lies in explaining the merits and conditions of participation thoroughly.

"If you visited a university in Ireland a few years ago you would only find one lady gathering the papers from the researchers and answering their questions. Now there are more than 20 professionally trained teams doing this."

He suggested that more government involvement can aid the researchers. "When the country is already having an agreement with the EU, this would surely raise its chance to get a portion of the fund."

However, he stressed that the ownership of research projects goes to the consortiums, and that for the MENA countries to be part of the consortiums they need to play a major role on the research project.

Abdel Hamid El-Zoheiry, the president of the Euro-Mediterranean University in Slovenia, and past executive director of the Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) programme in Egypt, says a solution to the IPR dilemma could be more mutual funding of research.

"We need to convince the EU partner to accept the idea of co-funding the projects, this will give a bigger chance for bigger north-south Mediterranean cooperation," he says.

This co-funding, he adds, would give a chance for better collaboration based on each partner's scientific and economic benefits rather than on one-sided priorities.