Knowledge and technology transfer from universities to companies is increasingly valued, and can be achieved by creating technology-based spin-offs from knowledge generated in the university, by obtaining patents and selling them to interested companies, or by selling specialists’ time to companies that want to innovate. The first two modes draw on knowledge funded by university resources (lecturers or research grantholders) or public funds (grants or projects); the third relies on private financing. Therefore, the first two generate knowledge that belongs to the university, whilst the third produces knowledge that mainly belongs to the company that paid for the research. The first two produce knowledge that is published (in scientific papers and patents) and recognized via different channels.
The third mode, in which a company contracts a university to generate knowledge, does not normally lead to publications, and the knowledge generated is generally a trade secret. This kind of knowledge rarely generates scientific papers and the associated recognition of researchers. However, as in other modes of knowledge transfer, the relationship brings several benefits to the university. First, the know-how gained by contracted lecturers or researchers strengthens the university. Second, if the company is satisfied with the work, the relationship with the university is likely to continue. Third, the research work enhances the research group’s curriculum and increases confidence in it, which may help it to forge relationships with other companies. Finally, the university receives income from this activity.
Several aspects of the aforementioned benefits should be highlighted. University members who are hired by companies gain knowledge through projects; this knowledge then forms part of the university’s value and potential. However, if no new contracts are forthcoming, these specialists may end up leaving (often to other countries), and their know-how will be lost forever, and not necessarily to the benefit of any companies in the country that has invested in their training. This was seen during the recession: the number of research group contracts dropped, which led to undercapitalization of knowledge and its resulting negative impact on the country.
The government should find ways to create job stability for those who have and generate knowledge, as knowledge strengthens universities and produces lasting value. Mechanisms should be improved for recognizing researchers who work in high added-value projects, but cannot easily publish scientific papers. Finally, universities and public administrations should be made aware of the great benefits of this activity.
Technology transfer should be given a much higher value in society. This would encourage researchers to undertake ambitious projects with companies to address major scientific and technological challenges. Such collaborations are highly prized in leading countries. At the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), researchers work very closely with companies. The results are excellent and help the industrial sector to continue to grow.
Dr Josep Lluís Larriba-Pey, director of DAMA UPC, member of the UPC Technology Center, written with other 19 directors of UPC centers.
Published in El Punt Avui-L’Econòmic on 25/10/2015