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Booklet offers guidelines for research partnerships
By Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu
March 14, 1997
To more closely collaborate with industry in developing new products and technologies, the University has issued a booklet of guidelines for establishing research partnerships with businesses.
The primer introduces some minor changes in wording from the Universitys existing regulations. More significant, however, is a declared change in outlook.
"The new guidelines for technology transfer signal a new attitude," said Ilze Krisst, assistant dean for contracts and corporate relations at UConn's Research Foundation. "The University is subject to certain rules and regulations and laws, and we can't change that much, but the outlook and the attitude can be changed.
"What we are articulating is the fact that the University is willing, able and eager to interact with industry."
In the past 10 years there has been a change in how the results of research are transferred from universities to industry, said Thomas Giolas, vice provost for research and economic development, and who chaired the University-Industry Interaction Committee that developed the guidelines. "In the old days, it happened through publications and conferences," he said. "The new approach is to transfer technology much more directly - by consulting and working with industry through research contracts, patents and licenses."
The key in developing relationships with industry is to establish clear expectations at the outset, Krisst said. Hence the new primer.
"Every project or interaction involves at least two parties: it involves an individual from one world - the academic world - and an individual from another world - business and industry," she said. The two sides may differ in how long they expect the project to take, what results they expect to see, and whether the results of the research should be published.
She said the University is trying to be more flexible and willing to experiment in structuring its relationships with business.
"The fact that the primer was written to try to make it easier for someone from outside to understand the steps involved in cooperating with the University is a most significant fact," he said.
"The primer will help a lot in recruiting interesting projects with people outside the University who don't know how to get through the University bureaucracy," added Stwalley, who recently submitted a major proposal for collaboration with the lighting industry.
Ian Hart, head of the animal science department and also a member of the committee, agrees.
The primer "is a step in the right direction in terms of promoting the right atmosphere," he said.
"We will be much more able in the future to approach companies - and for companies to approach us - in an optimistic frame of mind, knowing we can probably work out some form of agreement." Hart previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry and collaborated with researchers at a number of land-grant universities around the country.
The new guidelines come at a time when collaboration between academia and industry is becoming increasingly attractive to both sides. Corporate downsizing has reduced the number of companies able to maintain their own research and development units, and small businesses need research help from outside.
Industries that do have research units have cut back on fundamental research because of the time it takes to have an impact on their products, and are focusing on applied research, Stwalley said. "It makes sense for them to farm out some basic research to universities, as long as it can be done in a way that does not put them at a competitive disadvantage," he said.
"We have assets companies
don't have," such as animals that can be used in research
and individual faculty already pursuing basic research, Hart added.
Krisst said there is a growing awareness in state government that universities have an important role to play in economic development. "States in general - and the state of Connecticut in particular - are encouraging universities to interact with the state and small companies to help them prosper and develop jobs," she said.
The proportion of UConn's funding from industry is relatively small but growing. Of the $56 million in external funding received at Storrs and the regional campuses in 1995-96, 10 percent came from industry. State and federal sources still accounted for 84 percent of external funding, while 6 percent came from non-profit and other private sponsors. The University also received $437,874 in licensing income, more than double the $200,000 received in 1991.
Members of the University-Industry Interaction Committee said more can be done to improve collaboration. The committee recommended that the University reorganize and expand its Technology Transfer Office; develop incubator facilities for small companies on campus; review the faculty reward system so that partnerships with business are encouraged; and appoint a standing committee to resolve issues that arise in interactions between the University and industry. The University is already working to implement several of these recommendations.