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Bid for more innovation prompts dramatic changes at U of Missouri


By David Schwartz
Published: September 24th, 2014

It has been two years since Pennsylvania State University overhauled its IP policies, attracting a lot of attention, and in some cases criticism, for a new approach to sponsored research agreements. Hank Foley, then the vice president for research at Penn State, wanted to make the institution more attractive and easier to work with for companies needing an academic partner. Consequently, Foley, who is a big proponent of open innovation, designed a policy that enables companies to retain the rights to any IP generated during sponsored research as long as the researchers involved are on board with the policy as well.

It’s still not clear whether the industry-friendly approach is generating more research at Penn State, but a handful of other institutions are implementing similar policies. Among them is the University of Missouri (UM), which has not only bought into the policy used at Penn State; it has even lured Foley, the architect of that policy, to join UM and take charge of making the state university’s network of campuses more appealing to industry partners.

Foley, who serves as MU’s executive vice president for academic affairs, research, and economic development, has developed a five-point plan aimed at boosting the amount of research conducted at the school and translating more of that research into goods and services in the marketplace. In addition to loosening the reins on IP developed via sponsored research, Foley also wants to improve collaboration between the university system’s four campuses, boost entrepreneurship, reward researchers for developing their innovations into marketable products and services, and take advantage of successful ideas from other universities.

While the broad outlines of this plan mirror what Foley put into place at Penn State, he stresses that some of the strategies he is employing at UM reflect important differences between the two schools. “We are just smaller in terms of research expenditures, with about a half to a third of the total research [that takes place] at Penn State,” says Foley. “We would like to grow… and to do that we need to figure out how we can look better to the federal agencies than our competition.”

One way to do that is to improve UM’s ranking with the Association of American Universities (AAU), a metric that carries strong influence over where federal dollars get spent, observes Foley. Currently, UM is ranked just 32 out of the 34 public universities that are members of AAU, so Foley is focused on nudging that figure in a positive direction.

Another important difference: While Penn State had a number of bureaucracies in place that needed to be restructured in accordance with Foley’s vision, he is starting from scratch in many instances at UM. “Here what I am trying to do is similar, but there is less structure, so it is an opportunity to build from the ground up,” he explains.

For example, now in the discussion stage at MU is an idea for a new office that would serve almost like a concierge service to industry, explains Foley. “[Industry representatives] could come in and meet people who would talk about our IP portfolio and licensing; they could meet people who would talk about opportunities to support research; and they could talk to people about where to go meet students they would like to recruit,” he explains. “Of course, we would also talk to them about how they might help forward the mission of the university through corporate philanthropy. We are trying to shape an office like that right now.”

Since Foley’s ideas are now well-known in university circles, he has not had to expend nearly as much energy on winning over university administrators or the larger community. “They recruited me because they had seen what I was doing at Penn State and they thought my skills and my approach would be a really good match here at the University of Missouri,” notes Foley. “They understand the importance of this and they want it to happen. There is a tremendous hunger here to get these things going.”

Even commercial interests are more attuned to Foley’s ideas at this point. “Columbia [MO] has a group in the private sector of bankers and investors who really want to see the university have impact immediately on their region,” notes Foley. “That is very different and way ahead of where we were at [Penn State] — culturally way ahead.” A detailed article on Foley’s plans as well as results of IP policy changes at Penn State appears in the September issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, along with the publication’s subscriber-only archive containing hundreds of success strategies and best practices for TTOs, CLICK HERE

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