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Public research-corporate relations in France

Marc ISABELLE, Ph.D. Economist Agence de l?Innovation Industrielle & C. Schoch

Here are some of the findings of a study on intellectual property, circulation and exchange of knowledge between state-funded research laboratories and corporations.

The study was launched in 2004 by the Institute for Management of Research and Innovation (IMRI) at the University of Paris-Dauphine among about 1800 labs in three disciplines: chemistry, information and communication science and technology, and life sciences. Its aim: describe collaborative processes from the standpoint of state partners, to enable them to identify the keys to a partnership strategy that promotes scientific and technological production without compromising the tradition of open science.

146 laboratory heads answered the questionnaire. With 52% in the life sciences, 37% in chemistry and 11% in ICST, these labs represent over 6800 research staff with 875 partnerships concluded. 90% of the labs report partnerships with corporations. With how many companies? The average number of partners reported by lab was 6.9 and 15% of the labs say they had over 10. But these labs are not representative of the overall population: they are particularly active as regards industrial partnerships.

Applied versus basic research?

Corporate relations take various forms and provide a great deal of structure for the labs, particularly because they offer an important lever for development via the recruitment of young researchers. They must be managed carefully, however, to avoid negative repercussions on scientific activities. The study reveals that although relations lead labs to increase their applied research activities, that did not necessarily harm basic research (see figure). What companies impose on labs are restrictions as regards dissemination and tranfer of knowledge, which can even apply within research teams.

In terms of intellectual property and management of intangible assets brought by and drawn from the partnerships, the study also indicated a wide variety of practices which probably reflects the diversity of the situations encountered (see figure). The ownership of findings is generally shared, but most labs also are experimenting with exclusive ownership. Moreover, confidentiality contracts seem to be just as important as patents in protecting results that grow out of partnerships, and the laboratories protect their property by putting forth the state of knowledge they possessed before the contract and by securing ownership of prior results. Lastly, although these relations rather frequently produce conflicts between partners (15% of the labs say one has occurred recently), three-quarters of them are quickly resolved.