The American higher education system has always been one yearned by the world and has brought about the discoveries that contributed to innovations leading to products that enhanced the societal needs. Universities are capable of producing the base knowledge (discovery) used in the design of new products (innovation). However, they are dependent on organisation to take these inventions and turn them into actual commodities. This course of action has worked well over time, however, there are opportunities to widen the level, number and depth of university-industry collaborations and enhance the development of new products. Some trends are should also be taken into account. Large pharmaceutical organisations are reviewing their investments in internal research and development (R&D) and looking to opt for promising inventions by collaborating with universities (2) and small business innovation research (SBIR) and small business technology transfer programmes. (3) Governments (federal and state) are widely acknowledging the value of university-industry partnerships and are beginning to make investments that fund these efforts. One example is the Clinical Translation Scientist Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that serves as the federal government’s investment to promote and put in motion the discovery-to-innovation process.
A 2008 report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology titled “University-Private Sector Research Partnerships in the Innovation Ecosystem” (4) illustrates an outline of the U.S. R&D enterprise and emphasis on the importance of a university-private sector research partnerships, their potential to enhance research and innovation and the challenges obstructing further progress.
Small businesses play an increasingly critical part in innovation and the health of the U.S. economy; the connections of universities with those businesses to promote their R&D activities can be extremely beneficial. This is the reason why most companies that are receiving SBIR support had at least one founder who previously served in the science/engineering academic sector. These companies often engage with universities (17%), faculty (27%), and graduate students (15%) to assist in their projects.
In a progressively composite and multifaceted research landscape, universities and industries can benefit from collaboration. For universities, there are several financial and nonfinancial motivations. For large research-intensive universities, industry-sponsored research acts as a vital component in the overall external funding mosaic. According to the most recent data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), universities in the United States increased $2.87 billion of industry research funding in fiscal year 2008; this illustrated about 5.5% of all R&D expenses but close to 7% of external funding. Further, to effectively compete for federal grants in today’s highly competitive environment, universities are required to identify the relevance and significance of the proposed research as well as how industry will be engaged with the proposed project.