Margaret Thatcher hears how Britain surrendered rights to great inventions


26 February 2009

To fight fascism Britain forfeited hundreds of millions of pounds by agreeing not to patent radar, the jet engine and penicillin, an audience including Margaret Thatcher were told on Tuesday evening.

Professor Graham Richards, Chairman of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, told Baroness Thatcher and others attending the launch of his new book 'Spin-Outs: Creating Businesses for University Intellectual Property' that in exchange for 50 old American ships the UK gave the US permanent leases on bases in the West Indies plus agreement to abandon rights to the three world-changing inventions.

"The Attlee Government set up the NRDC, later BTG, to exploit Government IP. Although apparently successful - cephalosporins, pyrethroids - they rejected the hovercraft and monoclonal antibodies."

Since 1988, he said, there has been a transformation. The Oxford Chemistry Department has earned for the university over 80million, created six public companies and 15 still private, helped by partnership with IP Group Plc.

"This book is dedicated to Lady Thatcher because without her nothing of what has happened would have been possible. While Prime Minister she introduced two vital innovations, changing tax rules so as to introduce venture capital and in 1987 giving the Intellectual Property of Government-funded research to the universities."

He added: "If the present rules had applied when cephalosporins were discovered at Oxford by Florey, Chain and Abraham, Oxford would now be as rich as Harvard. In our present difficult times one of the few hopeful avenues for prosperous future is the creation of new companies and indeed new industries from university IP."

Professor Richards spoke at Burlington House, London, where the Royal Society of Chemistry has its headquarters.

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