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University-industry collaboration drives academic productivity, openness

January 26, 2017
By: Robert Ksiazkiewicz

While some researchers contend that university-industry collaboration may corrupt the academic ideal of open sciences and reduce academic productivity, researchers from the London Business School (LBS) and University of Southern California (USC) found that university-industry research collaborations – in certain situations – can lead to more publications but fewer patents than similar academic studies without industry partners. These findings would indicate that such collaboration can actually stimulate open science and increase academic productivity, rather than weaken it.

In When Collaboration Bridges Institutions: The Impact of Industry Collaboration on Academic Productivity, the authors wanted to test the assertion of many scholars and previous research findings on university-industry collaboration. The previous literature put forth the argument that the focus of these relationships are heavily skewed toward benefiting corporate interests (i.e., commercialization and appropriation of corporate intellectual property rights) leading to the erosion of academic productivity as well as other norms of science in academia.

However, these new findings might indicate a mutually-beneficial relationship for both corporate and academic interests. To arrive at their findings, the researchers conducted analysis on discoveries that occurred simultaneously – multiple scientists make roughly the same discovery around the same time – and tracked the subsequent research trajectories of academic scientists who collaborated with industry on the discovery to academic scientists who did not. While the project was limited in scale to 36 pairings, the statistical analysis showed extremely strong significant relationships between industry collaboration and increased publications and decreased patenting – patenting has been long considered to be a restrictor of academic openness. This allowed the authors to feel comfortable standing behind their findings.

In counter to the previous conclusion of a negative impact on academic productivity, the authors contend that university-industry collaborations may offer a better allocation of task and responsibilities as long as the project has both basic and applied research potential – especially when an established company was the research partner. They believe that this division of labor, between basic and applied research, allows academic researchers to focus on the fundamental elements of the research for the project while industry researchers can focus on the applied aspects of the research – this plays into the relative strengths of each type of scientist (academic scientists being more interested/trained in basic research and industry scientists being more interested/trained in applied research) as well as creating knowledge spillover.

Another benefit for academic researchers in industry partnerships is increased access to resources, skills, and equipment that allows them to fulfill the potential of the research thus increasing their academic productivity. Finally, since the industry partners have little economic interest in restricting access to the basic research findings and typically have IP rights over commercial developments, academic scientists are able to introduce their newly discovered basic research into the literature without considering patenting, IP protections, or other protectionist mechanisms that would reduce the openness of their findings. The lack of future financial motivation allows the individual to contribute their basic research findings to the academic literature in their respective field.


higher ed, commercialization, r&d