The relationship between higher-education institutions and private industry often is sensitive. In the past, Columbia University chemistry professor Nicholas Turro said, universities and industry had little to do with each other, and most universities liked it that way. Some still do. But that's not the "real world" today, Turro said, and there are reasons for both sides to improve their relationship. Universities need the financial support that industry provides, including funding for research that faculty and students conduct. Industry needs what universities produce--trained graduates and the knowledge they bring with them into the workforce.
Improving the university-industry relationship is part of the mission of the Industrial Research Institute, a Washington-based non-profit organization that operates in the real world. "Given the rapid pace of technological change and increased international competition, IRI recognizes the need to strengthen existing interactions and to build new linkages between industry and universities," the organization declared in a position statement last year.
Fourteen companies comprised the original membership of the institute when it was formed in 1938 as an association of research directors under the auspices of the National Research Council. IRI's members today are some 265 industrial and service companies with a common interest in effective management of technological innovation. They pay annual dues of $3,900.
Member companies must maintain a technical staff and laboratory for industrial research in the United States, Canada, or Mexico. Most, located primarily in …