June 30, 2008

Best practices in university-industry collaboration

Monday and Tuesday I’ve been attending a 2-day conference on university-industry relations at UC Irvine at the Beckman Center, which is the West Coast home of the National Academies of Science and Engineering.

The conference is the 6th meeting of the University-Industry Development Partnership; UIDP began with its first meeting in December 2006. It is the institutional successor of the University-Industry Congress which was convened from 2003-2006 to address increasingly expensive and contentious university-industry negotiations for IP licensing. Both are under the sponsorship of the National Academies’ Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable.

The two-day conference includes both nitty-gritty negotiating sessions to hammer out the organizational structure and big picture keynotes. Among the projects being launched by the UIDP is a process for streamlining IP negotiations using planned software dubbed “turbo negotiator.”

One interesting talk was one on how UCI has succeeded in its second try to act as an innovation hub for Orange County tech entrepreneurs; another was a keynote by Henry Samueli, former UCI professor and co-founder of Broadcom. I also had my own talk on open innovation and university innovations (check back later).

However, perhaps the posting of greatest general interest to those in university relations was the summary of U-I best practices offered by UIDP’s paid staff (i.e. executive director Anthony Boccanfuso). He listed three main points developed after considerable university-industry negotiations:
  1. A successful UI collaboration should support the mission of each partner. Any effort in conflict with the mission of either partner will fail. (Joel’s translation: all deals must be win-win)
  2. Institutional practices and national resources should focus on fostering appropriate long term partnerships between universities and industry. (It’s more than just the money)
  3. Universities and industry should focus on the benefits to each party that will result from collaborations by streamlining negotiations to ensure timely conduct of the research and the development of the research findings. (There is a finite window for commercialization)
All three of these ideas are part of a much broader report of the findings of the 2003-2006 discussion, sponsored by the NAS/NAE GUIRR. These (and much more) are contained in the 20-page booklet Guiding Principles, available for free download from the GUIRR website. (The earlier mentioned HP model of the "Partnership Continuum” can be found in Appendix A of the report).

Even though there are UIDP veterans present, participants still talk about the cultural gap between the two-sides in their expectation and mission. I think self-interest is as complete an explanation as culture — both sides are trying to maximize their returns in a zero-sum negotiation. (Growing the pie through massive adoption seems like a better options for both sides).

Photo credit: Photo of Beckman Center by Tele-Atlas via Google Earth.

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