Industry-University partnerships have a long history. From the old-style collaboration between MIT and Standard Oil of New Jersey in the 1920s to the Bayh-Dole Act of the 1980s, partnerships between industries and universities take many different forms.

Part of the reason why these collaborations have existed for the past 60 years is the multitude of benefits they offer both industry leaders and large universities.

Benefits of Industry-University Partnerships

These collaborations develop into win-win relationships with both parties gaining from the agreement. Universities gain financial support for education and research while also broadening student and faculty experience. They can expand their scope of study and give students access to better employment opportunities. Not only do universities achieve these concrete benefits but partnering with industries can also promote multi-disciplinary approaches to research that can eventually deliver solutions for pressing real-world problems.

Industries also have plenty to gain from partnering with a university. While reducing their costs, they also have greater access to expertise, renewal and expansion of technology, an excellent source of employees, and expanded opportunities for research. Companies may also use universities as a training ground for the company, while reducing training costs further downstream. Companies will suddenly have the ability to explore ideas at a reasonable cost, giving them time to think, reflect, and innovate.

Conflicts of Industry and University Collaborations

No partnership is a true collaboration without conflict. Industries and universities can develop a win-win relationship, but there will be obstacles along the way.

Academic research tends to focus on sharing information in the public domain and intellectual property rights.  In direct contrast, many industries desire to keep their research and development secret to avoid threats from competition. Industries have time-sensitive product schedules and a need to make decisions rapidly, which goes against the innate bureaucracy of large academic institutions.

Working through these conflicts is highly necessary to the development of synergy in these partnerships. Two things to consider when forming a working partnership are the timeline and disclosure of results. A long-term timeline gives more benefit to both organizations but requires more management. An open disclosure of results means more publishing benefits for universities and a reduction of costs as related to intellectual property.


Four Modes of Collaboration

Structure can be a large factor in the success of industry-university relationships. There are four main models of collaboration that you can use to successfully structure your new partnership.

  1. Extended Workbench

This format is essentially contract research. In order to be successful, academic research must be closely aligned with the business problems. The extended workbench serves as a lure for a more beneficial and longer-term partnership. In this mode, industry works rapidly with the university on proprietary issues. It’s a great way to start a relationship, but there are several concerns for academics. These include the possibility that it will shift work away from their research, the fear that there will little-to-no opportunity to publish, and the reality that the work is often highly confidential.

  1. Idea Lab

Idea labs create new options for short term projects, but also provide the opportunity to publish. Industries can test ideas that do not warrant a large investment. These simple contracts are another great way to start a short-term relationship with the goal of building a long-term collaboration. The idea lab setup can attract new partners and build relationships.

  1. Grand Challenge

This long-term industry-university partnership structure creates new knowledge that will be shared in the public domain. It is highly managed and often involves more than one company. Working together, industries and universities attack common problems that result in transformational change while creating new fields and markets. The best part? There are no issues with intellectual property rights. The Grand Challenge can also provide opportunities for industries to hire talented graduates, while colleges can shape an innovative environment.

  1. Deep Exploration

A rich and long-lasting partnership, this mode gives industry the first right of refusal to license. Industries can gain competitive advantages through large investments in labs or research centers where the business can control the overall direction of the research, critical governance, and tie payments to milestones. Deep exploration also offers opportunities for royalty sharing, fast approval processes, and a streamlined system for managing disclosures.


Finding a Partner

 Universities need to strategize when finding an industry partner. Rethinking technology transfer as an opportunity to raise investment capital is a great place to start. Kickoff your own research on where there are gaps in the market and how you can help fill those in. Identify the top 50 technology companies in your region and make an appointment with the CEO. Simply asking what their industry needs is a great way to get a foot in the door.

If sitting down with a CEO is not your first choice of introduction to an industry, begin by holding workshops on campus for faculty researchers to present to industry. Faculty with experience in your potential partner industry can be a huge asset. Don’t forget to utilize this on-campus resource.

How to Make the Industry-University Partnership Work

There are several different things to consider when looking to establish a successful industry-university partnership.

First, ensure that your collaboration has stable long-term funding. A lack of funding can put a lot of stress on a new partnership, especially if your goal is to work together for a longer time period.

Second, be sure to provide university autonomy through governance structures that include the university. This is a great way to create a more equal distribution of decision-making power—essential for any partnership. Shared governance can also develop a dialogue between academics and company researchers. The university can even develop advisory committees focused on given industrial areas. This will allow your top academic researchers to have access to top management in the industry, creating faster communication when strategic issues arise.

Third, building in flexibility to your agreements gives both organizations freedom within the partnership. Neither partner should feel trapped by your contract, but instead feel able to discuss and create change.

Fourth, begin your win-win relationship with a shared vision and develop a strategy. Having both institutions on board with the bigger picture of your collaboration can prevent a lot of conflict. Make sure you map out key questions and research challenges that are high priority for both in order to create a clearer big-picture vision. Include a unanimous agreement not to put importance on intellectual property. Define when rights are exclusive or non-exclusive and who owns what.


How CREST Can Help

Creating an industry-university partnership can be difficult. Using a template of framework contracts for joint projects is a great way to reduce negotiation time and begin that win-win relationship.

Creating this set of framework contracts doesn’t have to be your job. CREST can help to reduce the confusion in the beginning of your industry-university partnership by developing this template. Reduced negotiation time leads to happier partners and an easier beginning.

CREST can also work as a guide to navigate details on a case-by-case basis from this broad framework. Our experience working with industry leaders and expertise on university—industry partnerships makes us a leader in creating the perfect collaboration – and it’s our goal for the Frederick community that collaboration happens.

Beginning a relationship between broad organizations can be challenging. Let us guide you and your partner. If you’re interested in starting a collaboration, contact us today.