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Thought bubble on patents would skew research and lead to gaming

The Australian      |     8  August 2014

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A suggestion by industry minister Ian Macfarlane – which he admitted to be a kind of “thought bubble” – that research funding should be linked to how many patents universities register would only encourage the filing of “junk” patents as the system is gamed, according to research consultant and Howard-government science adviser Thomas Barlow.
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Macfarlane said that using patent activity could better align university research with industry needs. Currently block funding of $1.7 billion a year is largely driven by the research infrastructure - ABCnumber of research papers published in academic journals.

But Barlow said it was such journal publications that were the markers of the world class research that drives valuable discoveries.

Doing world class research that gets published in top journals is more likely to generate valuable intellectual property than taking out junk payments.

Barlow, also said that focusing on patents would skew research away from key industries that don’t make a great use of patents, such as financial services and the mining industry.

Australian Research Council chief executive Aidan Byrne echoed Dr Barlow’s comments, saying the reliance on single indicators to allocate research money would create “perverse incentives”.

Les Field, the secretary of science policy with the Australian Academy of Science, also says this Macfarlane’s adopting suggestion would be a flawed approach:

I think tying grants to patents is simply the wrong way to go. One really has to recognise quality research and research excellence, and recognise that there may well be a commercial outcome to this and you need to facilitate that or make it as easy as possible, but some of the best developments in fact probably will come from the research which at the moment is what I call ‘blue sky’. It’s looking into the unknown, trying to tackle problems that perhaps we haven’t even identified yet.

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