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Government/Industry/Academic Relationships for Technology Development: A Workshop Report
property ownership and usage rights. Also important is the difference between what motivates industry and what motivates academia. Profit drives industry. Academia is driven mainly by quality research and recognition for that work. The main question is how to bring together those two mindsets, not an easy task. He felt that it took approximately 2 years to form a trusting partnership and that a trusted third party could help promote this collaboration. The federal government and its employees serve as that third party.
NSF and Semiconductor Research Corporation jointly fund a partnership of four universities. Hurt said it took around 2 years for the company to trust him as an individual, to say nothing about how long it took the universities. He believed all partners saw that the outcomes of the partnership were far better than anything the individual organizations could accomplish on their own.
Hurt defined innovation as “turning knowledge into something useful.” Although the United States, since around 1950, has developed one of the finest academic research enterprises in the world, it is lagging the world in innovation. In 1985, NSF decided that something should be done to induce academic institutions to partner with the private sector on research. The research would be no less fundamental than that already being done, but it would be in areas of interest to the private sector. Although the collaboration had initially produced a clash of cultures, it has since proven to be successful, Hurt said.
If one looks at what it takes to be innovative, a technological workforce is one component. Hurt was concerned that in the 1990s, 2 million of the 16 million increase in high-tech jobs were filled by immigrants. There are simply not enough U.S.-born candidates. It might even be argued that without the employment of immigrants in the 1990s, our economy would not have been as robust as it was. There is a new concern that if the awarding of visas is stopped or slowed, the country could be in serious trouble in certain fields, especially information technology.
Hurt also asserted that U.S. students were not pursuing careers in engineering. More than 50 percent of the Ph.D.'s granted in the United States in engineering and the computer sciences go to foreign students, not U.S. citizens. Academia’s mission was to train individuals and to perform research, something they do well. However, funding of research laboratories by large corporations is shrinking. This leaves academia with an even larger role to play than before.
Infrastructure is also a key factor in innovation. There was a movement, Hurt said, to turn academic institutions into commercialization units even when they clearly did not have the capability or infrastructure to act as such. Academic institutions should remain academic institutions and continue to play a role in research and education.
Culture is one factor that affects innovation. The factors effecting pockets of innovation in the United States—for example, Silicon Valley, Research Triangle Park, and Route 128—are not necessarily the people, the knowledge, or the infrastructure, but simply the culture of innovation: the excitement, talking, and sharing that helps things happen. Innovation does not typically occur in organizations and locations where the culture is risk-averse and entrenched (as it might be in a family business). Innovation happens in those organizations that can think in terms of investment and that are willing to take risks by looking for new ways to do things. These organizations want to hire Ph.D.’s who can work in industry instead of Ph.D.’s trained to work only in academia. Hurt continued by saying that government either aided innovation or restricted it. One