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21 April 2015

UIDP smooths bumpy road joining academia and industry

University Industry Demonstration Partnership's flagship event.

Author: Gregg Bayes-Brown, editor

The publication of Global University Venturing’s first cross-title collaboration with Global Corporate Venturing is still a few months away. However, it is becoming apparent that our initial hypothesis that the most entrepreneurial universities would want to work with the most innovative corporates may be off the mark.

A part of this stems from a disconnect between universities and corporates, which happens for various reasons depending on who you talk to. Ask professors who have worked in academia all their lives what they think of corporates, andthe range of responses goes from okay at times to cries and shouts about the devil appearing in fine suits. Ask corporate guys what they think of academics, and you can expect some sort of pithy remark about rubber-stamp cultures and taking six months to make a single point.

In truth, both are very different worlds, and pretty much speak different languages – something that makes the job of a journalist who sits in the middle tricky. At its core, the disconnect arises from differing goals that are hard to reconcile with one another – profit and prestige. At a company, the end goal is always the bottom line. But the bottom line for a university is often not money – it is about the quality of research, how that research is perceived and utilised, and how that can feed into teaching and a respected student body.

So, in 2006, when the University Industry Demonstration Partnership (UIDP), funded by the US National Academies of Science, was first launched with the goal of bringing corporate and university representatives together, all hell broke loose. “There was a lot of shouting and finger pointing,” one delegate told me at UIDP’s most recent event. “It was all ‘you guys don’t do this’ and ‘you guys don’t understand that’. It was a pretty chaotiaffair.”

However, a decade on, and the dissention of the past seems to have faded to mythical status at UIDPThe once bumpy road of intellectual property potholes and low-flying accusations has been tarmacked over into a smooth ride that exchanges viewpoints from both industry and academia fluently. The blame-fest has subsided, and at this year’s UIDP at the Purdue University campus, both camps came together to identify hindrances to the effective flow of ideas from the minds of academics to the next billion-dollar company.

From a corporate perspective, the handling of intellectual property (IP) is a notorious snag on the road to harmony. The time it takes to get to an agreement – and the different timescales corporate and universities work on as a whole – was highlighted as a major barrier, as can arguing over the rights. Corporates said universities seemed more concerned about losing out on value from the next Google rather than recognising the value of collaboration. At the same time, universities want the lion’s share of value while not appreciating the risk a corporate takes at the early stage.

There are other non-IP issues that corporates identified, such as more useful technology than the corporate can directly invest in, pointing towards angel and venture investors as ways to fill the gap, along with incubators. The transactional mindset of tech transfer offices (TTOs) was also highlighted, with the suggestion that universities should be looking to build longer-term partnerships with corporates. It was also said of TTOs that they do not always have a clear understanding of all that is going on inside a university, and should always be looking to expand their knowledge of their own ecosystems.

Universities have been responding to the feedback from corporates. With time an oft-repeated issue to overcome with corporates moving a lot faster than universities, some UIDP members have adopted express licence programmes to get IP out of universities faster, and have cut the red tape associated with those licences so they can fit in better with a corporate’s needs.

Another model universities have adopted is to hold patent auctions, where low-priority patents, some of which can be bundled together due to their close relations, are licensed exclusively. The process allows universities to get patents out rapidly, while also providing an event to promote industry-academic collaborations.

These are just some of the programmes developed through the free flow of communication between the two sectors, and universities also have the opportunity to inform corporates of how things are on campus, and of challenges the corporates need to overcome to make themselves more appealing to the university crowd. Generally speaking, it is that understanding of how universities work that institutions look for in a corporate partner, as understanding the barriers and potential successes in overcoming them together makes it easier for the academic partner to achieve its own goals.

Looking forward, the UIDP has just stepped out of the shadow of the National Academies of Science to become an organisation in its own right, making its independence official at the conference. The UIDP will also be looking to expand beyond US borders in the year ahead as it seeks to bring its own style of fostering university-industry collaboration to new countries. 

Copyright Mawsonia Limited 2010. Please don´t cut articles from www.globaluniversityventuring.com or the PDF and redistribute by email or post to the web without written permission.

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