Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Forging Successful University-Industry Collaborations: Replacing Adversarial Dialogue with Engagement Can Bridge the Cultural Divide in Negotiating Research Agreements

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Forging Successful University-Industry Collaborations: Replacing Adversarial Dialogue with Engagement Can Bridge the Cultural Divide in Negotiating Research Agreements

Article excerpt

In an increasingly competitive global market for research and development, the United States is falling behind in significant ways. It lags behind Asia and Europe in production of technical degrees, scientific papers and high-tech exports:

* Latest figures for science and engineering degrees as a percentage of total new degrees show that in 2004 the U.S. had 14 percent, behind 28 other countries including China at 39 percent, Japan at 25 percent, and Ireland at 23 percent (1).

* In 2005, the U.S. had fallen to seventh in total R&D expenditures as a percentage of GDP, following behind Sweden, Japan and Korea. From 1995 to 2005, the U.S. fell to 25th in average annual growth rate of R&D expenditures as a percentage of GDP, with the U.S. at 3 percent, behind China at 18 percent, Ireland at 8 percent, Russia at 6 percent, and the EU at 3.5 percent (1).

* The U.S. share of worldwide high-tech exports has been in a 20-year decline. Since 2001, the trade balance for high-tech products has fallen into deficit.

In this environment, U.S. industry is beginning to move sponsored research overseas in search of growth potential, abundant R&D personnel, and more favorable intellectual property (IP) terms from foreign universities. Thus, at a time when the emergence of technological and economic competitors requires increased university--industry (U/I) collaboration in the U.S., many information technology industry and university research institutions agree that the difficulties of negotiating U/I collaborative research agreements are a barrier to American competitiveness.

The Collaboration Imperative

The "go-it-alone" approach to innovation and development is no longer viable. Today the complexity of problems and the need for multidisciplinary approaches requires interaction, the flow of ideas and knowledge exchange. Collaborating and partnering enables innovation ecosystem development and new industry creation (2,3).

The U.S. innovation ecosystem has thrived on U/I research collaborations, yet their potential is being compromised by conflicts over IP issues. Technology transfer (IP licensing) is not necessarily the most important form of U/I interaction. It is serial, occurs at a late stage in the process, takes a long time (often 20-26 months), and may not maximize the flow of ideas. It contributes less than research collaborations to the preparation of students for joining the professional workforce.

Collaborate or die is the modern imperative. Giving up on industry-sponsored research at U.S. universities would be costly for both sides, depriving industry of the creativity of outstanding university faculty and depriving universities of industry partnerships critical both to research and to education of the future industry workforce. For universities and industry to go their separate ways would put U.S. competitiveness at risk.

Challenges and Differences

Although the cultural divide between universities and industry in negotiating research agreements is real and considerable, there are ways to bridge the gap. Universities function in an intricate IP environment due to complex third-party IP obligations to federal and state governments as well as to academic researchers. University negotiators have much less flexibility over IP than their private sector counterparts. This situation, combined with the fact that university and industry negotiators are sometimes unfamiliar with each other's perspectives, leads to what we term a "silent breaking" scenario:

Two researchers wish to work together on a research topic (across U/I boundaries). They meet and define an area of mutual interest. Their organizations begin the process of negotiating an agreement framework. The researchers wait for the agreement details to be hammered out before commencing the research. Time passes (sometimes 2 + years).

The negotiation parties become increasingly frustrated that agreement is elusive. …

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