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Developing University-Industry Relations: Pathways to Innovation from the West Coast (Review)

Tomorrow's Academy

Message Number: 
1144

Although the book is primarily intended for senior university administrators and faculty and private company business managers, the range of contributors and subjects means that people from a variety of backgrounds will find it readable and in some way directly applicable to their professional role. At times, readers will benefit from having a basic level of business knowledge; however, the book includes a glossary of terms that may be unfamiliar or require contextual (re)definition.

 

Folks:

The posting below is a review by Kate Laverty-Wilson of the book, Developing University-Industry Relations: Pathways to Innovation from the West Coast, by Robert C. Miller, Bernard J. Le Boeuf, and Associates. It is from Planning for Higher Education. 38(3): 64-65. (www.scup.org). Reprinted with permission.

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

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Tomorrow's Academia

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Developing University-Industry Relations:

Pathways to Innovation from the West Coast (Review)

 

Academia and the for-profit sector are often not well aligned in terms of their cultures, ideals, or systems of governance. For example, the university system of governance is based on a complex and nuanced pattern of relationships, while industry governance is generally hierarchical. There are also the more obvious differences in objectives, which, to generalize, include knowledge and distinction for universities and revenue for industry.

Even in the face of the obstacles posed by these differences, several prominent universities and corporations have created highly successful partnerships that range from industry-sponsored research agreements and consortia to university-related start-up companies and research parks. Stanford University, University of Washington, The University of British Columbia, and University of California have established highly productive working relationships with companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Google, Discovery Parks, and Cohen-Boyer. The case studies presented by Robert C. Miller and Bernard J. Le Boeuf in Developing University-Industry Relations offer examples of how to form and sustain these still-novel relationships and overcome their difficult-to-predict challenges.

The difference in culture is one of the book's first major topics and a pervasive theme throughout subsequent chapters. Miller and Le Boeuf describe the divide: for schools, progress and prestige are the top priority, such that \"pushing the frontiers of knowledge is the ultimate objective and motivator\" (p. 4), and reputations, often decades in the making, must be constantly cultivated. Industry, on the other hand, \"places a high value on earnings, profit, return on investment, product or service development, and market growth. Companies are concerned with quarterly results that necessitate short-term goals\" (p. 5).

The two also have different policies on intellectual property. This is perhaps best exemplified by the universities' rush to publish versus the corporations' rush to patent. And the inherent intangibility of the \"goods\" involved in negotiations between universities and corporations make it more difficult to define their terms, manage them, and exploit them within their sometimes narrow windows of opportunity.

There are other hindrances to a mutual understanding among the parties. For example, universities can overestimate the value of their deliverables and underestimate the costs of translating them into a viable product. The significant potential for miscommunication or misunderstanding-surrounding rights, deliverables, compensation, etc.- points strongly to the need for up-front negotiation and open discussion.

Though disparate, the perspectives and goals of the two sectors are not irreconcilable. The view of Miller and Le Boeuf is that \"it is possible to have enormous intellectual integrity and high-quality research simultaneous with being a valuable impetus to regional economic development\" (p. v).

Miller is a long-time university administrator who has served as dean of the faculty of science at The University of British Columbia, director and associate vice provost for research and vice provost for intellectual property transfer at the University of Washington, and vice chancellor for research at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Le Boeuf taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz from 1968 to 1994 and has been associate vice chancellor for research there since 1999. He also spent three years consulting with industry.

Most of the book's other contributors hail from academia; many work or have worked with their institutions' technology transfer offices. In addition, one is executive director and CEO of Discovery Parks Trust, and one is a writer who has studied university-based start-up companies for 10 years. The contributors present a variety of tested methods and strategies for handling a full spectrum of technology transfer activities. Their goal is to share exemplary and effective practices that might form a strong foundation for constructive and successful university-industry relationships.

Although the book is explicitly not intended as a how-to guide, its chapters are rich with practical advice, often helpfully distilled into key suggestions and action plans. This advice runs along a common thread, despite originating with multiple contributors from varying backgrounds. Most contributors stress the need for consistency in the institution's policies and discipline in its practices (as each decision creates precedence) and for flexibility in managing intellectual property (as each case and every invention is different).

Despite the obstacles, the rewards of creating successful university-industry relationships are numerous and widespread. There are economic benefits for institutions, industry, and society that are often mutual, if not inherently circular. For example, these cooperative agreements have the benefit of both better preparing graduate students for industry careers and supplying companies with a pool of new employees. But beyond the parties directly involved, beneficiaries include government, local economies and communities, and even the society-at-large, as \"social benefits flow from the use of new products, processes, and services that promote improved human health, reduced environmental impact, and improved human sustainability\" (p. 74).

The economic benefits are multiple and self-sustaining: new industries, jobs, and investment opportunities; increased productivity; and an expanded tax base. That is not to say that these undertakings are not subject to economic flux. For example, contributor Katharine Ku observes that the economy affects \"industry's receptivity to technology licensing\" (p. 25). However, the system of support these relationships provide, wherein research expenditures can act almost as a stabilizing factor, also makes them attractive in times of broad economic strain.

Although economic factors are discussed, it is difficult to know the extent to which location affects the success of these partnerships. What is lacking is a point of reference with respect to similar ventures on the East Coast. Is the geography simply a common denominator or is it a catalyst for success? The authors appear to be working on the assumption that we recognize the region as a technological hub-a point they mention in passing, as they do the \"cluster phenomenon.\" This raises the question of whether the characteristics leading to success are inherent to all similar hubs or to specific regions. Most likely this topic has not been fully vetted, and this omission does not detract from the book's value.

Although the book is primarily intended for senior university administrators and faculty and private company business managers, the range of contributors and subjects means that people from a variety of backgrounds will find it readable and in some way directly applicable to their professional role. At times, readers will benefit from having a basic level of business knowledge; however, the book includes a glossary of terms that may be unfamiliar or require contextual (re)definition.

Despite the already established relationships this book explores, these are still largely uncharted waters. The authors stress the challenge and novelty by coining this the \"new complex world of university-industry affairs\" (p. vi). The complexities surrounding these relationships and their nowhere-near guarantee of a favorable outcome make them daunting. But when successful-and this book offers ample proof that they can be-they are a boon to all kinds of social and economic progress.