Recently I looked at the latest EU document on innovation that espoused open science and open innovation. The paper talks about the need for scientific collaboration to be rife, and for a landscape that encourages this knowledge to transfer quickly into industry.
Further insight into the strategy of the European Commission on innovation was provided by a recently published research note written by the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC). The note highlights the important role innovation plays in the future of Europe, and sets out what it believes are crucial aspects of supporting it.
I wrote recently about a new Reuters report into the most innovative universities in Europe, and this is a major aspect of the research note. For a start, it advocates reducing the red tape associated with the Horizon 2020 program, with more of the money that is allocated assigned for softer tasks such as promoting and commercializing research.
The report goes on to examine what can be done to encourage universities to be as innovative and commercial as possible. It’s an issue that I’ve touched on previously after a report published earlier this year revealed the paucity of time spent by academics on commercial activity.
When pondering why this might be, an academic from St Andrew’s University, Scotland, suggested it might be down primarily to a lack of business acumen amongst academia.
The latest EU paper points the finger in another direction however, suggesting that a problem might be the equity arrangement of any company spun-out of a university. The paper advocates taking as small a slice of the new company as possible.
“The role of [university tech transfer offices] must shift decisively from creating value for the university up-front to supporting the creation of value by students and faculty,” it says.
It argues that if universities get too greedy then it will deter innovative academics from seeking to commercialize their work. It cites evidence from elsewhere to suggest an ideal initial stake is around 3-5%.
With Eindhoven University of Technology coming out on top of the Reuters study of innovative universities I mentioned earlier, it is perhaps no surprise that their approach is lauded in the paper, not least due to the high proportion of staff that combine academic work with work in industry. Indeed, academics at the university are often tasked with finding industry partners to help fund their research, which goes a long way to ensuring any findings crossover into industry readily.
It goes without saying that saying the right things is significantly easier than doing the right things, so it remains to be seen just how effective the EU becomes in living out these proposals, but it’s hard to quibble too much with their ambitions.