Against a background of rapid change in higher education, increasing competition for funding and economic pressure, initiatives to diversify income streams and to facilitate the University’s core activities are to be encouraged. Centres, institutes and joint ventures are examples of such creativity and, as they frequently have significant legal and financial implications we advise that advice is taken from the Legal Services Office at the outset.
Issues which may arise include those relating to intellectual property rights, trademarks and other aspects of the use of the University’s name or of the word ‘Oxford’, data protection, copyright, obligations under the Companies Act, and the financial liability of and obligations on individuals. It is important that advice on these issues is sought as a preliminary step so that they can be properly addressed early in the development of the proposal.
Centres, institutes and joint ventures with the following characteristics tend to be the most complex, from a legal perspective:
- the formation of a centre or institute with the University as a ‘partner’ or contributor, or of an entity within the University (other than a new academic department), where it is proposed to use the word ‘Oxford’ in the name of the centre or institute;
- the creation of a joint venture or “partnership” with external organisations (such as other institutions), Government bodies, or the private sector; and
- the ‘spinning-out’ of an activity in circumstances where the University lends its name, or there is some other association with the University, but there is no transfer of university technology (where there is such a transfer, the procedure is set out in the Regulations for the University’s intellectual property policy: a guide is available from Oxford University Innovation Limited).