January 29, 2011

Intel does more inbound OI

Stanford and Intel this week announced their joint R&D lab on the Stanford campus this week. As noted in the San Jose Merc and the Stanford press release, the research will include $2.5 million/year of Intel money over five years, as well as 30 faculty and 50 graduate students.

The Merc claimed it was “unusual”:
In an unusual collaboration, Intel and Stanford University announced Wednesday that their scientists will work together, on campus, to design new visual computing projects.
However, open innovation readers will recall that there’s nothing knew about Intel paying for its scientists to work alongside university researchers.

Intel’s cooperative university research was the focus of Chapter 6 of Chesbrough’s original 2003 book. And as Chesbrough noted in a 2005 interview with Strategy & Leadership, Intel worked closely with 15 US and 10 overseas universities on its basic and applied research. Intel has obviously made a major investment in this collaboration — paying its scientists, the lab costs and funding university projects — for more than a decade.

Intel is not the only firm to be so actively involved. In my 2008 road tour of mobile phone research at US universities, it was obvious that Nokia (then) had a significant presence at Stanford and MIT with its nearby research labs. Microsoft had an even greater presence.

This is not limited to software, which is why Novartis has a major research lab across the street from MIT and Johnson & Johnson has a research lab a mile north of UCSD.

Given the cutbacks in industrial research since the heyday of Bell Labs, companies are more dependent than ever on universities for basic research. The problems are that the companies need to have enough scale and investment in absorptive capacity to take advantage of the (rather expensive) access to external knowledge.

It also requires organizational slack and a consistency of commitment to see it through. When I visited Yahoo Research Berkeley with Youngjin Yoo in 2007, we were impressed with how far they had come in solving some tough problems at the cutting edge of mobile Internet services. When I went back a year later, YRB was gone, and its founder Marc Davis was temporarily at a Yahoo operational job en route to Microsoft (via a startup).

There’s more to open innovation and university relations that the canon of Chesbrough. One of the most oft-cited papers of the first decade of open innovation is the 2007 paper by Markus Perkmann and Kathryn Walsh entitled “University–industry relationships and open innovation: Towards a research agenda.” But as the paper suggests, there’s plenty of research that needs to be done at the intersection of these two streams.

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