Drop in support is reflected in fewer industry-academia papers and fewer patents for academic institutions, NSF report states
By Kate Travis | September 21, 2006
Industry contributions to academic research and development have declined after decades of steady increases, according to a new report from the National Science Foundation (NSF). It's unclear whether the trend will continue, but efforts to make industry-academia partnerships easier may be the best way to foster the applied research that comes from such collaborations, some experts say.
Overall, industry's share of academic R&D funding in 2004 was 4.9%, down from 7.4% in 1999. The dollar amount peaked in 2001 at $2.2 billion and dropped 5.1% to $2.1 billion in 2004, the most recent year for which data is available, reports Alan I. Rapoport, senior analyst with NSF's Science and Engineering Indicators Program. In addition, the number of institutions that receive more than 10% of their R&D budget from industry fell from 52 in 1998 to 21 in 2004.
The new report is a deeper look into the findings of an NSF brief published in April, which uncovered a 2.6% decrease in industry contributions to academic R&D between fiscal year 2003 and 2004. The brief also noted that overall academic R&D expenditures were up 7.2% in 2004, compared with roughly 10% annual increases in the previous two years.
Rapoport decided to take the analysis further and look at industry participation in scientific publications and at patents given to academic institutions. He reasoned that industry funding is related to commercial development, so these factors may provide indirect measurements of industry support. The percentage of academic articles with a coauthor from industry increased between 1993 and 2001, but then dropped in 2002 and 2003, he reports. He also found that the number of patents awarded to academic institutions accelerated during the mid-1990s, but now has essentially leveled off.
"The question is, why after so many years - three decades of continuous increases in industrial support to academe -- things have started to turn around," he told The Scientist.
One likely explanation is increasingly difficult negotiations over intellectual property, as industry tries to maintain the commercial potential of its investment and universities look for a return on the use of their resources.
"The attitude toward intellectual property has put up some hurdles," said Rich Chapas, Battelle?s director of industrial collaboration at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
In most cases, those intellectual property battles are unnecessary, according to Robert Killoren, associate vice president for research at Ohio State University, where 15% of total sponsored research is industry-funded. "There's a whole lot of effort going into something that has a very low probability of making it," he said. In general, less than 5% of industry-funded projects yield new, patentable inventions, Killoren noted.
An informal survey conducted by the Industrial Research Institute among its members suggested that some companies are taking their research dollars overseas because intellectual property debates aren't as difficult at those institutions.
The reported dip in industry funding "concerns me because a lot of the strength of the U.S. economy depends on universities and industry being able to work together flexibly," Killoren said.
To help address the troubling decline in funding, the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable (GUIRR), a group formed more than two decades ago within the National Academies, has recently formed the University-Industry Demonstration Partnership, which will provide a forum for institutions and companies to discuss problems in contract negotiations and to foster relationships between the parties. That group will have its first meeting in December.
"It's a relatively low-cost approach to make the current system work smoother, to remove some of these barriers to industry-academia collaborations," Kei Koizumi, director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said of the group's efforts.
Roberto Peccei, vice chancellor for research at the University of California, Los Angeles, is a partner in the GUIRR and has an interest in facilitating university-industry relationships. According to NSF figures, $27.6 million, or 3.6%, of UCLA's research expenditures come from industry. He's not overly concerned about the newly reported decline in industry funding, however. "I consider it a dip, but not a trend," he told The Scientist. "I think there is a continuing pressure from industry to have more of their research done outside (of the firm), and so in the end, I think universities in this country will benefit."
Links within this article:
Where Has the Money Gone? Declining Industrial Support of Academic R&D, NSF 06-328
Industrial Funding of Academic R&D Continues to Decline in FY 2004, NSF 06-315
Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable, National Academies
Guiding Principles for University-Industry Endeavors
Academic R&D Expenditures: Fiscal Year 2004, NSF 06-323