NEW YORK—Academic research and corporate research and development would appear to mix as well as oil and water given their vastly different cultures and objectives. Yet collaborations among universities and businesses are crucial not only to making new discoveries but also to ensuring that breakthroughs in science and technology find their way to the people who need them.
Academics have a history of either giving away too much of their intellectual property to corporate partners or of making it too difficult for companies to license the technology, David Skorton, president of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., said Tuesday during a panel discussion hosted by the New York Academy of Sciences and sponsored in part by pharmaceuticals maker Johnson & Johnson.
The solution is to find a middle ground, James Weyhenmeyer, senior vice provost for research with the State University of New York (SUNY) system, said Tuesday during the panel. As an example, Weyhenmeyer pointed to a deal signed in 2007 for the University of California Berkeley, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to work with energy producer BP on a $500 million research program to explore how bioscience can be used to increase energy production and reduce the impact of energy consumption on the environment.
The intellectual property consisted of a "yours, mine and ours" model, which meant each party retained the rights to all of the work done at their campus facilities but had to share ownership of projects developed at joint sites (BP set up labs on both campuses), said Weyhenmeyer, who was interim vice president for technology and economic development at Illinois at the time.
The deal among Illinois, UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley and BP also included a clause that gave the energy company a royalty-free, nonexclusive license to commercialize the results of the collaboration, Weyhenmeyer said. BP could buy exclusive rights by paying the other two parties $100,000 per year per invention. In the event this group developed a blockbuster technology, Lawrence Berkeley and the universities could renegotiate with BP for a bigger piece of the pie.
Skorton is looking for more of this kind of collaboration in New York, which is home to 300 colleges and universities that spend $4 billion a year on research and development (second only to California). In addition, the top five U.S. patent holders, with IBM at the top of the list, have facilities in New York. Together these companies invest about $11 billion in research and development annually, Skorton said. Yet, startups and businesses in the state receive much less venture capital funding than their peers in other states. Whereas New York State attracts only about 4 percent of the venture capital investments made in the U.S. annually, California (thanks largely to Silicon Valley) draws more than 40 percent, he added.