Instead, Dr. Destler is attempting to remove the uncertainty over IP ownership at RIT: "We call it the `Corporate R&D at RIT Program,' which basically allows companies to sign on for research projects here, and - in return for a very modest up-front payment - they then own the intellectual property that might be developed. It's really like buying an insurance policy."
So far, 18 companies have signed on. The money they pay "buys" them a faculty member, access to university equipment, and student researchers. All participate voluntarily. Dr. Destler says his faculty seems to jump at the opportunities "because most of them have never made a nickel on any intellectual property. And the company, of course, owns the property, so they don't worry about having to license what they just funded."
When considering the United States, Dr. Destler says, "I have this gut feeling that if you look at our combined assets in our research-intensive universities and our corporate sector, we can't be beat." The challenge is removing barriers - and Dr. Destler thinks he's hit on a formula in Rochester that does just that.
Negotiating the Maze
In addition to the IP ownership question, other potential barriers to industry-academic collaboration are language, time frames, and size. Just figuring out who does what at a major university and who might be able to help you solve your company's problem may require more resources than a small or medium-size company can muster.
Some universities, especially large ones like Ohio State, have created go-betweens - specific officers who can speak the language of industry and academia. At Ohio State, that person is Dr. Sharell Mikesell, who received his Ph.D. in polymer science and spent 30 years in industry - first with General Electric and then with Owens-Corning. He ran a 500-acre industrial research facility and managed hundreds of research scientists. Today, he manages Ohio State's Industry Liaison Office.
He understands that academics and corporate executives don't always speak the same language or work on the same time lines: "Industry comes [to the university] in May to get some research done and the faculty members get excited; then a faculty member says, `Well, really, I won't be able to start this until September when I have a student.' At that point, the industry person is ready to pull his hair out."
Dr. Mikesell not only finds the right university resources for companies, but also helps negotiate the dealings between company representatives and faculty so that there are few surprises along the way. This must be working because he can point to at least 200 company reps that have come through his office and are now collaborating with OSU faculty and students.
To help move even more good ideas from Ohio State and other Ohio universities into the marketplace, new OSU Senior Vice President of Business and Finance Geoff Chatas and President Gee are exploring models for creating a statewide venture capital fund - that could be as large as $100 million - in which multiple schools might participate. Chatas says he's been quietly researching options with his contacts in the financial world. Such a fund might be able to bridge the "valley of death," where academic research can die for lack of funding to take it to the prototype and commercial levels.
Work Force Collaboration
It's not just research that industry needs from America's universities. It's a talented work force. A unique collaboration was announced September 27 in New York between IBM, the New York City Department of Education, and City University of New York. Essentially, the three entities intend to create a new "9-14" school in which students will start their freshman year of high school and end with an associate's degree in information technology. IBM will collaborate in curriculum development, provide hardware and software solutions, and then offer graduates first crack at IT jobs in its New York area operations.