University-industry collaboration: A glossary of terms
In the world of university-industry collaboration, technology transfer, and open innovation, there are terms that may be unclear to those new to the field (or even those more experienced, as the terms evolve). To help address this, we’ve created a glossary of frequently used phrases relating to the activity of university-industry collaboration to give a comprehensive yet concise introduction to terms you’re likely to come across.
As for our role in academia-industry collaboration, IN-PART operates online matchmaking platforms that simplify the initial connection between teams in academia and industry based on the alignment of research interests and priorities. We believe these new connections can help drive positive change by solving real-world problems with cutting-edge innovation being developed in universities and research institutes worldwide.
This glossary of terms provides an overview of university-industry collaboration – from funding and stages of development, to patents and intellectual property. Understanding the key actors and processes is the first step in establishing successful collaborations!
If you think something is missing from our glossary, or that any terms have been misdefined, let us know by emailing email@example.com
- Types of university-industry collaboration
- Types of funding for university-industry collaboration
- Technology transfer and university-industry collaboration
- Industry and university-industry collaboration
- Stages of development for university-industry collaborations
- Patents and intellectual property
An agreement where two parties collaborate and pool their resources to develop a technology for commercialisation. The co-development partnership deal must be carefully negotiated to ensure that ownership of IP is clearly set out between the two parties.
Strategic partnerships and long-term collaborations
A strategic partnership agreement sees two parties agree to share finance, expertise, or other resources in the pursuit of a common goal. A strategic partnership usually falls short of a legal partnership, and both organisations remain independent. Long-term collaboration and work on future technologies/projects may also arise from a strategic partnership.
Research sponsorship and funding
The person/company/organisation that takes legal responsibility for the management and/or the financing of the research. The research sponsor should make sure that the research is able to be carried out as proposed.
Part of an agreement whereby one party gives another party permission to do, use, or own something. In the case of technology transfer, the licensor normally holds the intellectual property for an innovation that the licensee would like to use. Licensing is normally subject to varying conditions set as part of the agreement, these can include ‘term’ (license duration), territory, and exclusivity.
With an exclusive license, the licensee holds the sole rights to the intellectual property. This also excludes the licensor unless otherwise predetermined as part of the agreement.
In the case of non-exclusive licensing, the licensee has permission to use the intellectual property but the licensor retains ownership. The licensor is, therefore, free to continue exploiting that intellectual property to further licensees.
A Spin-out, also known as Spin-off, is a separate business that has split off from a larger enterprise. Shareholders from the parent company retain equivalent shares in the spin-out. In university terms, the technology transfer office may choose to spin out a technology if it has the potential to generate multiple products for multiple sectors and may otherwise be unexploited. As the owner of the IP, the university receives equity in the spin-out business. Universities using IN-PART may be seeking industry support to form a spin-out or looking to license products from an existing spin-out to the industry audience.
The financial support that can be gained from a research funding partner to help provide the necessary resources to carry out the research. Research funding can include the salary for researchers, the consumables budget, and the sponsoring of research students. Research funding can come from a non-commercial source, for example from a government organisation (e.g. UKRI in the UK), national academies, or a charity. Commercial funding comes from industry, venture capitalists, and private companies.
A commercial partner is an organisation that provides funding or other research support via an agreement with the owner of the IP.
The act of putting resources (normally financial) into something (e.g. a technology or a business) to make a profit. Investment is normally in return for a stake or shares in a business. Investors aim to get returns on their investment over time as the business grows.
A form of private financing where monetary investment is made in return for equity (e.g. shares or a stake in a business). A person who makes these investments is a venture capitalist.
A secondment is the temporary assignment of a member of one organisation to another.
A consultancy is a practice where professionals (consultants) give expert advice in their specialist area.
Material transfer agreement (MTA)
A formal contract that sets out the terms for the sharing of research materials. One organisation may agree to share their materials with another to allow the latter to pursue their own research/testing. Material transfer agreements most commonly occur between academic institutions and industry.
Public funding (e.g. UKRI, KTPs, funding councils, NIH)
Public funding is most commonly in the form of grants or awards, either from charities or governmental bodies. Usually, there will be set amounts of funding available, and the funding body will accept applications of projects that outline details of relevant research.
Industry funding (e.g. RFPs through Discover)
Industry funding for university collaboration can take many forms, however, the most common are sponsored research projects and technology licensing agreements. Discover uncovers these collaboration opportunities to match relevant researchers and institutions with industry clients in their specific research interests.
Venture capital funding
Venture capital funding typically occurs in late-stage research, where the funding can help cover the costs of clinical trials, or the establishment of a university spin-out company. This money is usually invested in a hands-off manner regarding the scientific content, focusing mostly on preparing the end-product to place well in the market to make significant returns on their investment.
In the area of industry and academic cooperation, technology transfer relates to the movement of technologies from an academic institution to an industry client, either for licensing or outright purchase. This can lead to further relationships where the industry R&D team may want to work closely with the technology inventor going forwards.
TTO (technology transfer office/officer)
The Technology Transfer Office refers to the team/department that manages the portfolio of a university’s research and technologies. This can be an onsite team or a company established to manage this portfolio on behalf of the university. A Technology Transfer Officer is responsible for the management, upkeep, and promotion of their section of the portfolio, typically an expert of both the subject matter they are responsible for as well as well trained in business and asset management.
A written confidential description of a technology or piece of research, such as a novel procedure, target, cell line, or technology that includes a proven use for it. The academic will detail this discovery to their Technology Transfer Office and together they will decide if it is worth pursuing a patent and applying marketing efforts.
Patenting and due diligence
The act of patenting is to seek legal confirmation of ownership of a novel technology. This provides protection from other parties copying or replicating the technology. Due diligence is an accompanying investigation to prove that the patented technology does not encroach on any existing registered patents.
Research and Development (R&D)
The name given to the process of innovation within a company or research institute. Research and development can involve working on new products and services, or improving or repurposing existing assets.
Business Development Manager/Officer (BDM/BDO)
A business development manager/officer is in charge of driving sales and partnerships on behalf of their company. Their responsibility is to grow their network and business via conferences, pitches and demonstrations.
The principle that exchanging knowledge and ideas can lead to faster and more significant progress within innovation, rather than making advancements without sharing across the wider community. Open innovation allows industry to work closely with academia for the betterment of both parties.
Academia as a source of open innovation
Academics both pre and post-doctorate perform novel research, often with some demand either socially or on the market, which can be a valuable tool for R&D departments with industry to establish collaborations in order to solve complex common problems. As academics will hand over advanced/completed projects to their Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs), there is the opportunity to collaborate at early-stage through sponsored research, as well as licensing options with later-stage research.
The exchange of ideas and knowledge between industry and academia, which can flow in both directions. Knowledge transfer or exchange can be a less formal arrangement than technology transfer and can include consultancies and sponsored research agreements.
Technology Readiness Level (TRL)
Refers to the stage of development of a project and provides a way of standardizing the description of development level. Technology readiness level creates a useful shorthand to explain what has been achieved so far by the researchers during the development of the project, while also indicating to potential collaborators what further development is required. The definitions for each TRL vary between physical sciences and life sciences, and range from 1, the earliest stage of development, to commercial availability at stage 9.
Commercialisation of physical science technologies in a nutshell
1- Basic Principles observed and reported. The theoretical background to the innovation is developed.
2 – The technology and its applications are being developed theoretically
3 – A proof-of-concept model is typically developed during this stage, and the researchers will conduct feasibility tests
4 – Laboratory experimentation, if there are multiple components to the innovation then at this stage they will be tested together.
5 – More rigorous testing occurs at this stage, in conditions designed to mimic the real-life applications of the technology.
6 – Prototype is normally ready at this stage, for testing in real-world conditions.
7 – Operating in real-world conditions at a small scale (pre-commercial scale).
8 – First production run, manufacturing issues to be addressed and solved at this stage
9 – Product is made available to the market
The commercialisation of life science technologies in a nutshell
1 – Review of scientific knowledge base to develop the concept behind an innovation
2 – Hypotheses are formed and candidate therapeutics and concepts are set up
3 – Preliminary experiments set up and limited data is collected from in vitro and sometimes in vivo models
4 – First pre-clinical studies are carried out to demonstrate proof of concept and safety using animal or laboratory models
5 – Further pre-clinical studies are carried out, typically at this stage safety and toxicity will be tested
6 -In drug development Phase 1 clinical trials take place at this stage, in which researchers test the safety of the product on a small number of humans under controlled conditions
7 – TRL 7 involves testing in the intended application of the innovation, so for therapeutics, this would be Phase 2 clinical trials to test for effectiveness in a small number of patients
8 – Larger scale testing of safety and efficacy, approval by relevant bodies (for example the FDA)
9 – Product released commercially
A patent application has been filed but not yet granted.
The patent application has been approved and is now active, granting the owner legal rights of protection for the invention.
Legal protection lasting up to 20 years granted by a government protecting the functionality of a novel and useful product/process. Also referred to as a ‘patent’. A utility patent is used to differentiate between other patents which can be granted i.e. design patents (see below).
Legal protection granted in the US. Unlike utility patents, this protection legally covers the distinct design or ornamental aspects of a functional and tangible product.
An application filed for all types of patents (utility, design and plants) outlining the claims which are to be protected. The application also establishes the filing date and is the first step in the examination process before either being granted or denied.
Intellectual property (IP)
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), intellectual property refers to “creations of the mind” in various forms, which include designs, literary work, art, software, programs, inventions, commercial names and images. IP is eligible for protection under the law in the form of patents (utility, design, plant), copyright and trademarks, providing they meet prerequisites, as a means to protect the interests of both the innovator and the public to further encourage innovation.
The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) allows patent protection on the international filing date for an invention in numerous countries simultaneously via an “international” patent application.
Passed in 1980, this law has enabled universities, nonprofit research institutions, and small businesses the right to retain ownership of their inventions created under federally funded research programs, therefore allowing inventors the right to own, patent, and commercialise their creations. (35 U.S.C. § 200–212,).
Technical knowledge that arises from a person’s skills and experience relating to a method/process required to give a competitive advantage. It doesn’t have to be recorded and can be held in memory. Know-how must remain confidential in order to retain its value and is protected as a Trade secret.
Under US law a provisional patent allows for an early filing date before a patent application is formally submitted.
Written and edited by the IN-PART team.
Copyrights reserved unless otherwise agreed – IN-PART Publishing Ltd., 2022: ‘University-industry collaboration: A glossary of terms’
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