Research and Science Education Subcommittee Discusses Business-Research University Partnerships

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Publication date: 
30 August 2012

“Collaboration  between business and academia helps fuel research necessary for American  innovation and helps prepare a workforce that meets the needs of industry.  Both are critical components to future  economic prosperity and job growth.” – Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL)

During the August 1 hearing of the Research and Science  Education Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology,  Members heard from the business community about their partnerships and  collaborations with research universities.   Ranking Member Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) explained that “the path from the lab bench to innovation  and job creation depends on a complicated network of private companies,  scientists, universities, venture capitalists, startups, and entrepreneurs,” as he advocated that even in these tight budget times, the US “must sustain our investments in scientific  research, which means sustaining our investments in our world-class research  universities.” 

Brooks expressed an interest in learning about the  benefits that these collaborations bring to stakeholders and students, how  partnerships take shape and evolve, and how they can be strengthened.  Lipinski invited witnesses to address peer-to-peer  relationships within collaborations and the role of the National Science  Foundation and other federal science agencies in facilitating and contributing  to university-industry partnerships.  Lipinski  seemed to speak for both sides of the aisle as he expressed his interest in promoting “the creation of innovation ecosystems  within which universities, businesses, research institutes, and other  stakeholders build and sustain long-term and mutually beneficial  collaborations.” 

A hearing charter prepared by Republican committee staff  states that “US businesses and industry  have moved away from conducting fundamental, or basic, scientific research and  development in-house.  This shift has led  to a greater reliance on the Nation’s research universities for this research  and to provide the backbone for the science, technology, engineering and  mathematics workforce essential for U.S. prosperity.”  According to the National Academies report, Research Universities  and the Future of America, this shift from large industrial labs has  led to a growth in university-performed research and industry-funded university  research and has allowed for the creation of “new strategies for obtaining the productive knowledge that allows for  the innovation and development of new processes and products.”        

William Green, Executive Chairman of Accenture, assured  Committee Members that “global  competitiveness is the key CEO issue, and having the talent to compete is what  keeps CEOs up at night.  The companies –  and the countries – with the best talent win.”  His testimony focused on the need for talent,  research, and innovation since he believes “our  national research universities are our secret weapon.”

Ray Johnson, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology  Officer of Lockheed Martin Corporation expressed the need for the US to pursue  game-changing inventions rather than evolutionary improvements.  He discussed the talent acquisition process  stating that Lockheed had developed relationships with over 100 US colleges and  universities and with faculty, staff, and student groups.  He pointed out that Lockheed seeks out  partnerships with universities that are known for their academic excellence and  diversity and that this affects the pipeline of job applicants upon graduation  from these academic institutions. 

The need to aggressively reduce costs in this economic  reality has led to increased pressure on research funding, explained Johnson.  Regarding potential areas for improvement, he  stated “there is also a perception that  university research agreements are exceptionally difficult to negotiate,  specifically in regards to intellectual property or IP rights…. Universities  sometimes refuse to grant IP rights to industry.”  Lastly, Johnson advocated for the permanent  research and development tax credit.

John Hickman, Director of Global University Relations and  Life Sciences at Deere and Company, explained how Deere is involved with curriculum  review and classroom outreach.  He  described the Global University Relations initiative and provided an overview  of the variety of research projects and also stated that “industry plays an important role in advising universities as to the  relevance of research and workforce programs in addressing current and future  business needs.”  He further  explained that businesses can be involved in organizations that focus on  opportunities for partnerships such as the University Industry Demonstration  Partnership and the Government University Industry Research Roundtable.  

Hickman highlighted that Deere is trying to negotiate a  Master Research Agreement with universities where Deere expects to have  significant research activities.  This  Agreement will address issues including intellectual property, publication, and  confidentiality thus simplifying and standardizing the process of establishing  each new research project with that university.   Hickman also addressed the need for the federal research and development  tax credit as well as the retention of high-skilled workers, including those  trained at US research universities. 

Lou Graziano, Director of University Research and Development  Strategy, Sustainable Technologies and Innovation Sourcing at the Dow Chemical  Company, began by stating the desired outcomes from Dow’s investment in  strategic academic partners: to enable “the  discovery of advanced technologies that are relevant to the industrial and  societal problems;” to ensure “that our  institutions of higher learning remain strong in the disciplines that are  essential to a healthy, sustainably advantaged manufacturing sector;” and  to provide “new avenues of support to our  partners , ensuring that they benefit not just from the funding we provide, but  from the collaboration of scientific minds and the advanced knowledge we bring  to the table with respect to other important issues such as safety,  sustainability and intellectual property protection.”

Graziano also stated that intellectual property and maintaining  the focus of research at universities are challenges faced by Dow in their  partnerships.  He also emphasized that  there is a need for university-business peer-to-peer relationship wherein both industry  and academia are equally communicating their needs.  Lastly, he emphasized the need to retain  foreign graduate students trained in the US. 

Jilda Garton, Vice President for Research and General Manager of  the Georgia Tech Research Corporation highlighted two programs in her  testimony.  The Georgia Tech Integrated  Program for Start-ups is a streamlined licensing program and the FlashPoint  Program builds on startup methodologies and provides professional development  for entrepreneurs.  She emphasized a need  for predictability and stability to the research enterprise as she described  challenges faced by Georgia Tech in university-business partnerships; those  challenges include limited resources, increased regulations, and extensive  reporting requirements. 

During the questioning period, Lipinski and Rep. Dan Benishek  (R-MI) inquired about details of the partnerships; Benishek focused his  questions on how community colleges can become more involved in the  partnerships while Lipinski was interested in learning details about how  partnerships form.  Witnesses described  the process of matching up the research performed at universities with the  interests of industry.  Both members also  asked about federal funding.  Lipinski  was interested in understanding the effect of the profound role of federal funding  whereas Benishek was interested in what parameters should be put on research  and development funding. 

Brooks emphasized the record setting national deficits as he made  a statement on the rise in funding for research expenditures; he was interested  in learning strategic ways to promote research and development funding.  He also welcomed input from witnesses about  their views on overly-burdensome regulations that hinder partnerships. 

Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) questioned how to make it easier to  license technology that is produced based on university research.  The witnesses answers included the need for  better licensing and intellectual property agreements.  Clarke was also interested in learning how to  leverage the resources of an industrial city, such as Detroit, in engaging  these partnerships in order to boost economic growth.   

Rep.  Randy Hultgren (R-IL) advocated for improving communication options as he  stated “when budgets are tight, it opens  up an opportunity for us and that opportunity is to communicate like we’ve  never communicated before.”  He was  especially interested in hearing how the interaction between businesses, corporations  and research universities can also include partnerships and interaction with  national research laboratories.   Witnesses suggested that there be a focus on small and medium business  enterprises as well as community colleges in the discussions about improving  business-university partnerships.   Because the partners do not always have all the necessary resources at  their disposal, co-funded projects that include funding from private industry  and the government provide significant opportunity to bring the partners  together, witnesses explained.