Universities have a lengthy track record of providing dynamic environments for generating new ideas and spurring innovation, and for moving advances in knowledge and technology into the commercial stream where they can be put to work for the public good; these endeavors collectively are referred to as “technology transfer.” Given that public investment in research has been an explicit national priority for more than six decades, and given the level of that investment, universities arguably have an obligation to organize themselves effectively to facilitate the transition of knowledge into practice. This transition takes place through a variety of mechanisms,3 including but not limited to

  1. movement of highly skilled students (with technical and business skills) from training to private and public employment;4

  2. publication of research results in the open academic literature that is read by scientists and engineers in all sectors;5

  3. personal interaction between generators and users of new knowledge (e.g., through professional meetings, conferences, seminars, industrial liaison programs, and other venues);

  4. firm-sponsored (contract) research projects involving firm-institution agreements;

  5. multi-firm arrangements such as university-industry cooperative research centers; and

  6. personal individual faculty and student consulting arrangements with individual private firms

  7. entrepreneurial activity of faculty and students occurring outside the university without involving university-owned IP, and

  8. licensing of IP to established firms or to new start-up companies.

Many industries critical to the U.S. economy have relied on basic and applied academic research in the past century, including agriculture, biotechnology, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, software, microelectronics,


For a discussion of these mechanisms, see W.M. Cohen, R.R. Nelson, and J.P. Walsh. 2002. Links and impacts: The influence of public research on industrial R&D. Management Science 48:1-23; L. Branstetter and K.H. Ug. 2004. The restructuring of Japanese research and development: The increasing impact of science on Japanese R&D. RIETI Discussion Paper Series 04-E-021; and R.K. Lester. 2005. Universities, innovation, and the competitiveness of local economies. MIT Industrial Performance Center Working Paper MIT-IPC-05-0101.


See, e.g., National Academy of Engineering. 2003. The Impact of Academic Research on Industrial Performance. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. Also, the Kauffman Foundation’s survey of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) alumni found that an estimated 6,900 MIT alumni companies with worldwide sales of approximately $164 billion are located in Massachusetts alone and represent 26 percent of the sales of all Massachusetts companies, and 4,100 MIT alumni-founded firms are based in California and generate an estimated $134 billion in worldwide sales. Kauffman Foundation. 2009. Entrepreneurial Impact: The Role of MIT. Available at:


R. Lester, op. cit.

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