and industry gain from working together, but it’s not always
easy. ASEE deans seek paths to harmony.
Strong collaborations between universities and industry have long
played a major role in high-quality engineering education, in research
and in preparing students to enter the workforce.
Now, with industry demanding faster research and development while
cutting the number of central research labs, and with technology
advancing and global competition increasing, such partnerships must
be strengthened. They would make universities more attractive to
well-qualified faculty and students, help improve educational offerings
and enhance the stature and impact of academic research. Industry
would gain access to students and have greater influence over research,
thereby acquiring technology for better products and services.
companies and universities frequently experience difficulty in research
and technology-transfer partnerships. One source of friction is
time—both the time required to negotiate agreements and the
time allowed to complete the specified research. University faculty
and staff think in terms of semesters, while industry focuses on
much shorter periods. Another problem is outcomes. Companies prefer
results that are proprietary and provide a competitive edge. By
contrast, university faculty seek recognition through publication.
As a result, negotiations can become prolonged as the parties attempt
to reach common ground on issues such as publication, confidentiality
and intellectual property rights.
To help industry and universities work together, the ASEE
Engineering Deans Council (EDC)
organized two industry-university-government workshops where opportunities
for collaboration could be articulated and barriers reduced.
The first session, held Feb. 12, 2006, focused on intellectual
property. Organizers convened a group of diverse stakeholders to
discuss the effectiveness of transferring university research and
technology to industry and to identify guiding principles for improving
tech transfer and relations between academic and industry sectors.
Following this successful workshop, the EDC appointed a task force
to enable engineering deans to participate in national discussions
relating to tech transfer.
A second workshop, held a year later, explored best practices in
negotiating university-industry agreements and approaches to reduce
the time required to negotiate contracts. Participants identified
a need for better management processes for both universities and
companies, such as documenting the procedure used to negotiate contracts
and tracking and reporting progress. (Collecting and reporting relevant
data is important since people pay attention to what is measured.)
Benchmarking best practices at peer universities and companies was
also recommended; it is desirable to have common practices rather
than local solutions—even good local solutions.
Since different organizations define the start of negotiation and
steps along the way differently, participants agreed to focus on
trends—for example, whether there is a decrease in the time
to negotiate and sign contracts—and also look at the overall
benefit that flows from all aspects of university-industry partnerships.
In some institutions, too many people are involved in the process.
Poor operating practices, such as lack of timely follow-up after
people send materials to the other party, exacerbate the problem.
A variety of suggestions were discussed: Starting the contract negotiations
at the appropriate level can frequently save significant amounts
of time. Procedures are also needed to identify exceptional cases
and raise them to a higher administrative level early in the process,
and faculty need to be educated on various aspects of intellectual
property and export control issues. The most effective approach
appears to be to restructure university contracting offices and
staff them with experts in industry agreements.
The work continues: The Government-University-Industry Research
Roundtable has launched the University-Industry Demonstration Project.
And engineering deans will remain engaged in the dialogue with a
2008 Engineering Deans Institute devoted to tech transfer and entrepreneurism.
As both workshops stressed, university-industry interactions are
key to improving Americans’ quality of life and enhancing
competitiveness and productivity. We must continue the dialogue
and resolve issues that impede strong partnerships.
Paul Peercy, dean of engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,
is the immediate past chair of the ASEE Engineering Deans Council..