Can NJ’s Tech Industry and Universities Work Together to Jump-start Innovation?

Photo: Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno came to Rutgers to discuss the creation of a council on innovation in N.J. Photo Credit: Rutgers
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno came to Rutgers to discuss the creation of a council on innovation in N.J. | Rutgers

Intellectual property (IP) — in the form of patents on everything from life sciences discoveries to digital technology — originates at N.J.’s universities on a frequent basis.

Yet it’s often difficult for entrepreneurs to acquire this knowledge and “run with it” to create a product or service that will start an industry, or even just a solid great company, here in N.J.

Many of the barriers are culture-related and stem from differing points of view in academia and industry. The disagreements are over issues such as who owns intellectual property developed by company-supported university research, and whose job it is to teach science and math students the interpersonal skills that will make them assets to industry.

Companies complain that some university-based research is too “preliminary” to be used in a product right away. recently ran a story about a coalition of N.J. universities and other entities trying to bring big data innovations to the state. Its goal is to create a big-data alliance that would break down education and research silos in the state and achieve cooperation among the universities, making big data an economic engine for New Jersey. The end result should be shared education and research programs and cooperation with industry.

However, this kind of activity in isolation — promoting one part of one industry — is not enough, according the report “Building Bridges II: Breaking Down Barriers — Perspectives from Academia and Industry on Building a New Jersey Innovation Ecosystem.”

The report was written by the New Jersey Policy Research Organization (NJPRO) and Innovation NJ. NJPRO is an independent affiliate of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA). It is a follow-on to recommendations issued in July 2010 and represents opinions of specially convened industry-oriented focus groups.

You can read the entire report here.

The 2013 Building Bridges report has identified five overarching needs that are inhibiting greater industry collaboration with New Jersey academic institutions:

  • The need to alleviate administrative burdens associated with partnering with an academic institution.
  • The need to improve the coordination of academic, industry and state R&D efforts and resources.
  • The need to bridge the clashing cultural differences between academia and industry.
  • The need to raise awareness throughout the business community of the state’s available higher-education R&D assets.
  • The need to have higher education, industry and the state work together to secure increased R&D funding, especially from federal government sources.

The report made specific recommendations. On March 13, 2013, Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno went to Rutgers to announce that New Jersey would act on one of them, the creation of a council of innovation.

The council will be charged with advising the state’s Partnership for Action on how industry and academia can better work together to improve the state’s economy and attract more federal funding.

Here are the rest of the report’s recommendations:

  • To encourage greater collaboration, the state, industry and academia should collectively work to reform their IP protocols and investigate the feasibility of a uniform IP agreement for state colleges and universities.
  • Academic institutions should employ master agreements to avoid repetitive negotiations and increase the efficiency of executing collaboration agreements.
  • The state needs to identify within its institutions of higher education the expertise and resources that could form the basis for centers of excellence. Designation of a single center of excellence for a specific research topic would target resources and provide guidance to interested parties searching for a research partner.
  • Academia, industry and the state should form consortiums dedicated to producing innovative ideas, products and services and to attract increased federal funding.
  • The state, industry and academia should work together to bring thriving, productive professional conferences to New Jersey.
  • In an era of reduced and increasingly competitive government funding, academia, industry and the state must combine their resources and efforts to attract more federal dollars.
  • The state and institutions of higher education should review their tenure policies to motivate tenure-track faculty to conduct industry research and reward them for doing so.
  • Academia and industry need to work together to design internship/co-op programs that provide maximum benefit to all stakeholders.
  • Academia should emphasize the teaching of interpersonal skills and provide basic business training for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors, to facilitate the translation of research from the lab to commercialized applications.
  • Academia should design user-friendly websites to make it easier for business to find the resources it is seeking and facilitate potential collaborations.
  • New Jersey should more aggressively promote its academic assets to attract potential collaborators and research dollars.
  • Academia, industry and the state should establish a comprehensive resource directory that includes existing research areas, capabilities and talent and publicly available assets and facilities at New Jersey colleges and universities.
  • Each college and university should publicly promote its own chief administrator to serve as a one-stop shop for business to access university information and resources.
  • The state, academia and industry should find ways to improve coordination of their efforts to secure increased federal funding.

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