Best practices for building and maintaining university-industry research partnerships : a case study of two National Science Foundation engineering research centers
Boschi, Frank Carl
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Technology transfer involves the transfer of knowledge and inventions to the corporate sector, and has contributed to an increase in university and industry partnerships. The passage of the Bahy-Dole Act in the early 1980s, greatly assisted university-industry partnerships, generated the use of knowledge and inventions that came out of government sponsored research, and allowed universities to retain the intellectual properties instead of the federal government. In 1985, the NSF initiated the Engineering Research Center (ERC) Program to develop additional university-industry partnerships. The NSF intention is that Engineering Research Centers will become self-sustaining after the eleven years of NSF funding with an increase of research partnerships with industry and other federal agencies. This dissertation is a comparative case study of two NSF Engineering Research Centers. The Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE), at Montana State University, that has graduated from NSF funding, and has become a self-sustaining research Center with 23 current industrial members. The second ERC is the University of Michigan, Center for Wireless Integrated MicroSystems, which is in the fourth year of NSF funding with 19 industrial members. The main question that was answered in the comparative case study is what are the best practices that resulted in building and maintaining industrial partnerships? Center faculty market the ERC through their publications, and presenting at conferences where industrial representatives are informed of Center research. Other methods are visiting company sites, producing quality research, inviting industrial personnel to the ERC to meet with faculty and to attend ERC workshops. The elicitation of the company research problem from industrial personnel by Center faculty is important for maintaining Center membership. Multiple champions within the company must be cultivated to insure against losing a champion to retirement or company transfer. The Center Director of the CBE publishes and travels extensively to conferences and provides the best leads, while the Center for WIMS faculty thrust leaders, and the UM Corporate Relations personnel provide the best leads for prospective new members. Industrial members mainly join an ERC for knowledge, to perform collaborative research with faculty, and to have access to faculty and students.