Last year, the technology transfer organisations of UK universities formed the University Companies Association (UNICO) to ensure the results of university research are rapidly transferred into commercial exploitation.

One such technology transfer company is University of Leeds Innovations (ULIS). Established 25 years ago it now employs over 100 staff and has a turnover of nearly £6 million.

ULIS has a consultancy division which offers access to university academics and facilities on a short term basis. The division operates an expert witness service and recently became the first university organisation to achieve member status of the Academy of Experts.

Manager of the consultancy division Malcolm Smith says: “Lawyers have always used academics as expert witnesses, particularly if their case is a little unusual.

However, in the past few years the demand for academic experts has increased tremendously. We therefore decided to invest in setting up a proper support system where all our experts are detailed on a database; no mean feat when you consider that we have more than 2,000 academic staff at Leeds.”

As one link between academics and lawyers, ULIS ensures that everything runs to plan, reports are presented in a format which is required by the legal profession and they are presented on time.

ULIS is also committed to training expert witnesses and has commissioned a manual 'In my Opinion' which will be written by lawyers and aimed at academic expert witnesses.

ULIS is also in contact with other universities and will liaise to locate a specialist from another university if one is not available at Leeds.

Smith adds: “University technology transfer companies are in the business of promoting their own university's expertise to organisations – we are not competing with each other.

“UNICO is helping to ensure that we all learn from each other's experience and successes.”