Empowering researchers in ownership of research results

Posted by on 19 October 2009 at 11:21

By Ochieng’ Ogodo
One of the stickiest areas in research in Africa is the legal ownership of research results. For that reason, a satellite meeting on the subject was held to sensitise African researchers and to identify needs in order for funders to better align their funding strategies and policies. The meeting was jointly organised by NACCAP and EDCTP. 

For EDCTP, balanced and ethical partnerships between research groups  from South and North are pivotal, as well as engagement with third party partners such as public and private partnerships include shared ownership responsibilities.

Attendees of this meeting observed that ownership of research results presents a dilemma facing researchers and research institutions in the continent. Dr Judith de Kroon of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO/WOTRO/NACCAP) pointed out that many African researchers and institutions have limited expertise when it comes to protecting their intellectual property, data or research outcomes which may hamper balance between ownership and utilisation of research products. “Data always turn out to be very valuable but researchers in general and African researchers in particular often give it away without realising the value of data for public health and research careers,” she said.

Various experts addressed the legal ownership of research results that includes generated data, database management, publications, clinical trials data as well as patents related to pharmacological products and other medical interventions.

Professor Marta Catarino of Universidade do Minho in Portugal said in many areas, partnerships between academic-based and commercial firms are the common model for the development of new knowledge-based products and services.

“These partnerships are governed by legal agreements that define, among other issues, ownership of results. Health research for commercial purposes is an area where the level of investment needed for drug development requires special concern with Intellectual Property protection,” she pointed out.

But many issues affect the definition of a fair ownership of results from such a partnership. These include Intellectual Property (IP) ownership rules, funding systems, legal status of public research organisations (PROs) and individual researchers, national regulations on publication, national legislation on IP management, interests of PROs and industry, negotiation skills and experience in IP management.

In multi-stakeholder partnerships, she said, researchers, research institutions, commercial sponsors and public funders should all claim ownership. Participants in clinical trials may also claim some ownership.
“It is important that the interest of participants, researchers, community and sponsors are taken into consideration to ensure that research has a lasting impact, transfers technology where appropriate, contributes to capacity building and demonstrates respect for socio-cultural and other differences,” she told participants.

While she emphasised the need for research results ownership, this she said requires capacity for its utilisation and capacity building is therefore essential.

Dr Janis K. Lazdins-Helds, former Special Adviser to the Director at the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (WHO TDR) said data ownership has to be looked at from various perspectives such as financial, academic and political standpoints.

Data ownership, he said, results in Intellectual Property Rights that can lead to commercial exclusivity on products, publications that can lead to professional career development, research funding, institutional growth and determination of policies at national level.

Professor Elly Katabira of the Department of Medicine, Makerere University, Kampala  in Uganda speaking on ownership of research outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa said it is not enough to own data if you have no intention of using it later, which is often the case as there is a lack of capacity or support from the institutions.

“Research funding agents expect generated data to inform practices and policies. Generated data through research should be equally accessible to all collaborating researchers and institutions,” he said.

Katabira said that it was the responsibility of funding agencies and collaborating institutions to ensure that this happens. EDCTP Executive Director, Professor Charles Mgone said that his organisation, a partnership between European countries and those of sub-Saharan Africa supports data management and ownership through capacity building activities that are part and parcel of EDCTP grants.

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