Old-Style Collaboration

I label the first case "old-style collaboration," although this type of collaboration continues in many sectors of U.S. industry and in many U.S. universities. There are several key characteristics of this collaboration, many of which are illustrated by the collaboration between MIT and Standard Oil of New Jersey that contributed to the development of the discipline of chemical engineering in the United States before 1940. This academic discipline was developed with major contributions from MIT, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Illinois. But many of the innovative collaborative relationships that underpinned the growth of chemical engineering was centered at MIT. Arthur D. Little, Warren Lewis, and other faculty encouraged the development of these collaborative relationships, involving research and teaching, the exchange of students in cooperative education, the foundation of the school of chemical engineering practice, and a nearly parallel growth of organized research in engineering at MIT and in industry. The development of chemical engineering research, teaching, and practice was influenced by the symbiotic relationship between Standard Oil of New Jersey and MIT faculty who worked to codify, advance, and disseminate the key tenets of the emergent discipline.

Much of the collaboration during this period involved joint development of these new practices in both the academic and the industrial laboratories combined with relatively widespread dissemination, particularly through teaching and textbooks. The Standard Oil refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, also played a key role as an unofficial external laboratory and employer of a great many of the graduates and a number of the faculty at MIT in the school of chemical engineering.

The MIT-Standard Oil collaboration culminated in the development of fluidized bed catalysis in 1941. Research conducted at MIT complemented research done in the Baton Rouge refinery and produced an important patent that was assigned to Standard Oil. Although intellectual property and formal patents clearly were an important component and an important output of this research activity, the university' s direct role in managing, licensing, and seeking the assignment of the intellectual property was quite different from what we observe today. Indeed, it contrasts with the policy that evolved at MIT during the decade after this breakthrough in catalysis.

The key to this style of collaboration was personnel exchange—primarily from MIT to industry—through faculty consulting, faculty rotations to and from industry, and placement of graduates. Personnel exchange was a very important component of technology transfer, bringing expertise from MIT to industry and transferring practical knowledge from industry back into academia, where it was refined and codified, supporting the development of a broader engineering discipline. As in many other areas of engineering or scientific research, access by faculty to industrial facilities was important, as the scale and type of equipment in industry often were not available in universities. The industrial collaborators obtained the ownership of or were assigned the intellectual property resulting from collaboration, and a great deal, although not all, of the results of the research by academics in the industrial context were published.

Many of these characteristics still apply to much of the collaboration operating between U.S. universities and industrial firms today. Nevertheless, many of these collaborations contrast with others that center on patent licensing. There are some important contrasts to keep in mind between this "old style" and what we see emerging since 1980. A number of features of the post-1980 relationship between U.S. universities and industry are illustrated by the origins, growth, and decline of the Research Corporation during the 1940–1980 period.

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