Shared norms constitute a pillar of university-industry collaboration

Illustrative word cloud.
Illustrative word cloud.

In the years from 2012 to 2016, an international research team analysed the factors influencing transfer of university-generated knowledge to industry in the framework of the European Union's Horizon 2020 project "Crossing Boundaries: Knowledge and Technology Transfer and Innovation“.

The research team consisting of scientists from the UK, India, Portugal, Russia and Estonia included also Merle Küttim from the Department of Business Administration of TTÜ School of Business and Governance. Recently an article “How to commercialise university-generated knowledge internationally? A comparative analysis of contingent institutional conditions” introducing the results of the project was published in the scientific journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change.

Universities make a significant contribution to society through their collaboration with industry in the field of research and development. There are various forms of research and development related cooperation, but in the broadest sense, distinction may be drawn between collaborative research, contract research, consulting on the one hand and commercialisation on the other hand. The latter was analysed in the research project.

A researcher at TTÜ School of Business and Governance, Department of Business Administration Merle Küttim says, “Commercialisation includes patenting and licensing of inventions as well as spin-off where the scientists apply university-generated knowledge in the commercial activities.”

In the research project, eight cases of international university-industry commercialisation were analysed originating from four countries (the UK, India, Portugal and Estonia). Patent licensing and spin-off processes were analysed in addition to TTÜ also in case of the University of Manchester, the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and the University of Lisbon. Various factors affecting interruption of university-industry collaboration were also analysed.

An example of successful commercialisation is the University of Manchester, where University of Manchester Intellectual Property (UMIP) has been established, which manages the university’s intellectual property. It should be noted that patents are actively used in particular by the enterprises of those countries, where the ownership of intellectual property is very strictly regulated. At the universities, where direct and pro-active support for international commercialisation activities is limited, this gap can be filled by intermediaries, who buy in patents.

As regards influencing factors, it is obvious that a common linguistic space and legislative framework (legislation that prevents fraud and sets out the rights and obligations of the parties) are required for successful international commercialisation of university-generated knowledge.

“Our study reveals that while universities and enterprises are very different as organisations, three other factors contribute to effective international cooperation: similar field of activity or knowledge base, similar norms (supported by, e.g. mobility of people between different sectors) and similar professional background of cooperation partners,” Merle Küttim says.

Additional information: Merle Küttim, researcher at TTÜ School of Business and Governance, Department of Business Administration, merle.kuttim@ttu.ee