In addition to efforts to increase technology links between private companies in collaborative R&D projects, such as SEMATECH and NCMS, a growing number of university-industry ventures have been established over the past two decades. Many of these involve federal funds. The National Science Foundation (NSF) University-Industry Cooperative Research Centers program was an experiment in building private joint ventures but using public matching funds during the start-up phase. A more recent program, the Engineering Research Centers (ERCs), also supported by NSF, has established multidisciplinary university R&D centers.94 A similar initiative, the Superconductivity Pilot Centers, has been funded by the Department of Energy. State funds support cooperation between industry and academia in the North Carolina Microelectronics Center, which fosters cooperation between semiconductor manufacturing firms and faculty from colleges and universities located near Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. Many of these university-based cooperative R&D ventures focus on basic scientific research that is far from the commercialization stage of technology development.
There are many reasons for the increase in use of collaborative R&D to meet technology objectives. A primary reason is the lack of sufficient economic incentive for firms to invest in R&D. Research cooperation between firms can lower the cost of R&D whose results are not easily captured, or appropriated, by a single firm.95 As noted elsewhere and as the research agendas of many of these cooperative ventures suggest, such R&D often extends beyond basic research.
Other motives for R&D cooperation include reducing duplication of R&D efforts within technology fields, the desire of firms to complement in-house research agendas, and an increasing need to monitor research in a broad array of scientific and engineering fields. The high costs of specialized equipment can be shared among a larger number of firms, and industry standards can also be developed through collaborative ventures. The potential benefits of cooperation can be substantial. There are barriers to successful cooperation, however, including determining the allocation of intellectual property rights, deciding on an optimal division of financial and R&D risks, and designing effective technology transfer mechanisms.
Just as there are many reasons for firms to cooperate in R&D, they are also organized in many different ways. Some cooperative ventures establish organizations with extensive, in-house R&D facilities. Others do not conduct in-house R&D but, rather, fund R&D performed in university laboratories. There is also considerable diversity in the technical objectives and agendas of individual collaborative R&D programs. It should be clear, therefore, that cooperative R&D projects are not a standard or simple form of executing technical alliances but include a complex array of different organizational structures and approaches.