The way the Ohio Board of Regents sees it, there’s a whole lot of research coming out of colleges and universities around the state that could be ”monetized,” but it’s not happening. Yet. Which is why the Board issued a report today encouraging commercialization at the state’s higher education institutions.
Or, as the board itself put it using education bureaucracy speak, the report’s goal is ”to improve the technology transfer pipeline to turn research innovation into the next great products and services in the market.”
So instead of donating research to “science,” students and researchers can instead put a price tag on it and mass-produce it. The hope is that along the way, that sort of commercialization will create jobs and transform from an educational venture into an economic one.
Regent Vinod Gupta led the effort and the task force that wrote the report. He says Ohio does a fine job when it comes to doing research and collecting the money to fund it. But, he says, things fall apart when it comes to actually putting that research into practical use.
A recent Milken Institute report claimed that Ohio is behind other states in terms of technology commercialization, ranking it 29th out of 50. That’s despite being home to some highly esteemed research universities like Ohio State University and Case Western Reserve University, and spending billions of dollars on research.
Gupta says often, red tape gets in the way.
“Some of our universities take two years to grant a license. That is not acceptable. Some of them do it in a month.” There are lessons to be learned at universities that do this sort of thing well, he says, and improvements to be made at those institutions that are still struggling with commercialization.
But isn’t the mission of colleges and universities to educate?
Gupta says that’s part of the mission, but “we have to have a balance” between research and making the most of the taxpayer dollars that fund that research by leveraging it and turning it “into products, and creating jobs for our citizens.”
The high-paying jobs of the future are going to be in the technology sector, Gupta says, “and that is going to come through innovation and research and taking our research to where we have new companies that create new products.”
Specific recommendations from the Board include a greater focus on entrepreneurial education in college, so students who want to be entrepreneurs know how to go about that sort of thing once they graduate. The tenure process may be opened up to include commercialization efforts. Universities are encouraged to pursue “open innovation methods” that would better align researchers with companies and what those companies need, ultimately leading to intellectual property auctions.
It’s unclear just how much say those companies would have in determining what research universities pursue, but some critics worry increased emphasis on commercialization devalues “pure” or “basic” research. The National Science Foundation even wrote a book arguing on behalf of the “unexpected rewards” that basic research can bring.
Gupta says he intends to make sure his recommendations are taken seriously. He’ll be touring the state with several key members of his task force that helped him write the plan.
He hopes to see some improvements in the next 12 months, but he says really fixing the commercialization process will take much longer than that.
“The changes we are making are very significant, and we all need to have patience,” because, he says, “we need to change the culture.”
Gupta says at least one party is already one board: the universities themselves.
You can read the full report here.