from Hoechst-Celanese meet with university department heads and senior investigators to identify common research interests. These interactions are instrumental in utilizing broad university resources to discover unforeseen opportunities. The third set of interactions occurs at the program level, when company and university researcher teams carry out a defined piece of research. To facilitate program-level interactions, the company has established networking groups at the partnership schools so that company and university researchers can provide continuous feedback to one another. Members of the partnerships assert that each of these three levels of interaction adds value to the partnership and facilitates creative synergy. Together, they constitute a flexible management structure that allows the parties to meet emerging needs.
The partnership infrastructure includes an allocation process by which a joint committee identifies pertinent areas of research interest, requests proposals from faculty, and selects proposals to fund. Company grants support workshops, educational programs, research contracts, and consulting arrangements. To foster an atmosphere of mutual trust, the parties agree to deal with intellectual property rights in a blanket agreement under which deliverables developed within the partnership belong to the university, and the company has the right of first refusal to commercialize those products. In this way, university researchers and company scientists can disseminate research results without compromising valuable patent rights.
The MIT Media Laboratory (the Lab) was created in 1985 to perform exploratory, pre-competitive research in new information technologies arising from the merging of the broadcast, publishing, and computer industries. The Lab focuses on leading-edge concepts such as advanced digital television, holographic imaging, computer music, electronic publishing, artificial intelligence, autonomous agents, and the human/machine interface. The Lab conducts a broad range of interdisciplinary research with the support of approximately 125 sponsors. About 60 percent of these sponsors participate in one of three multi-sponsor consortia: News in the Future; Television of Tomorrow; and Things That Think.
The Lab operates on a budget of approximately $23 million per year. In 1994-95, approximately 85 percent of its contract research funding was provided by more than 100 corporate sponsors worldwide, representing industries ranging from telecommunications to finance. The balance of funding primarily came from various federal agencies. Several sponsorship vehicles sustain the Lab's operating budget, including endowment funding, contract research, major equipment donations, and consortia.
Corporate sponsors of the Lab initially entered into these partnerships with hopes the venture would yield benefits traditionally