How will rejoining Horizon Europe affect UK research and innovation?
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How will rejoining Horizon Europe affect UK research and innovation?

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Sally Shorthose of London Bird & Bird says the UK will again be able to benefit from EU collaboration and funding after resuming its association with Horizon Europe, but there are challenges to face

Brexit has had significant implications for research, science, and innovation. The deviation in the regulatory environment, reduced mobility of workers and access to research funding, and the way in which science and industry collaborate have each had their impact on research and innovation.

One of the most immediate impacts resulted from the decision by the UK to leave Horizon Europe, the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation, with a budget of €95.5 billion which runs until the end of 2027. The decision was rued not only by UK-based researchers but also their European counterparts, who always want to collaborate with the best.

On September 7 2023, however, it was announced that the UK had agreed a deal to associate with Horizon Europe. Consequently, UK researchers can now apply for Horizon Europe funding, with the full support of UK Research and Innovation.

This development has been warmly welcomed by the UK’s scientific and research community (albeit with an element of “about time too, what took it so long?”). UK entities can once again take advantage of the international cooperation and funding established by the Horizon initiative.

Benefits and challenges of rejoining

The UK has some world-leading research centres, such as the Cambridge Science Park, but that pre-eminence would have been threatened if the UK had been left outside Horizon for much longer, as it would be harder to attract the best scientists if the pool of attractive projects had reduced. Rejoining Horizon will create jobs, income, and opportunities, but there are other challenges afoot and the optimism may be somewhat unfounded, as even Australia and New Zealand have secured associate membership (the type available to the UK) of Horizon. Bird & Bird is already aware of research being transferred to Australia because of its favourable R&D tax credits system.

The immediate impact of Brexit and the UK’s withdrawal from Horizon was softened because the very nature of Horizon projects is that they are long term and UK entities were involved with projects with some time still to run. Nevertheless, within two years of the UK leaving the EU, UK involvement and contribution to such projects had already fallen from the top to seventh place.

Recovering its position, having opted to rejoin, will involve an equal or worse time lag as firms and universities gradually collaborate in new projects. The challenge to the research community in attracting talent (and, of course, investment) was coming to a perfect storm, with visas for overseas academics and researchers being harder to obtain or running out, and opportunities for cross-fertilisation of UK scientists limited by their own visa challenges.

What are the intellectual property (IP) considerations in collaborative research projects now? Is the commercialisation of academic research, for example, a challenge? The IP provisions in a Horizon project are generally not easy to negotiate or change, but it is always important for collaborators to include appropriate IP provisions, ensuring that all parties secure the rights of ownership and exploitation that they require, and not to kick the decision down the road and/or rely on the oft-favoured, but rarely ideal, solution of joint ownership of IP, unless the terms of that ownership are carefully set out, with step-in rights as needed for prosecution and protection.

Background and foreground IP are generally carefully drafted, with foreground IP often linked to the ownership of related background IP – it is important that parties secure the rights to exploitation and exclusivity that they require to fulfil their commercial interests.

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