SRC is a pioneering nanotechnology R&D consortium that has sponsored university research since 1982. It consists of several subconsortia that serve the integrated-circuit and related industries. Most of them also include public-private partnerships, of which two, the Semiconductor Technology Advanced Research Network (STARnet)16 and the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative (NRI),17 are specifically addressing frontiers in nanotechnology in partnership with DARPA and with NIST and NSF, respectively. The NRI partnership with NSF is connected to the NNI signature initiative Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond and is implemented through joint sponsorship of specific projects added to some of the NSF nanoscale interdisciplinary research teams. The committee believes that this type of partnership is one of many examples of best practices in R&D consortia that should be encouraged in multiple nanotechnology (and other) commercial sectors.
A more detailed look at the NRI example reveals specific best practices that could be further leveraged by NNI agencies in promoting the commercialization of nanotechnology. The main value of an NRI-style consortium in this regard is that its main purpose is indeed to foster commercialization of research results from the providers (universities in this case) through the consortium members (industry). A related purpose is to provide a supply of relevantly educated graduate students for recruitment by the members. Hiring students who have completed thesis research on projects of interest to the members is one of the best forms of technology transfer from university research to industry. NRI best practices for industrial consortia sponsoring university research can be summarized as follows:
• Consortium members build consensus on the scope of precompetitive R&D that will be funded.
• The consortium issues requests for proposals (RFPs) from the university research community on selected topics. In the case of NRI, the RFPs are developed, announced, and evaluated in cooperation with the NNI-partner agencies as appropriate.
• Project results are presented and industrial feedback on the progress is given at annual reviews open to all consortium members and university researchers under contract.
• Technologies are benchmarked to allow researchers to measure and compare progress toward key metrics of performance.
16 See SRC, “Semiconductor Technology Advanced Research Network,” available at http://www.src.org/program/starnet/, accessed April 15, 2013; STARnet is the follow-on program to the Focus Center Research Program, see SRC, “Focus Center Research Program (Legacy),” available at http://www.src.org/program/fcrp/, accessed April 15, 2013.