The Friday interview: Professor Mark Keane, UCD

9 Nov 2007

Newly appointed vice-president for innovation at University College Dublin, Professor Mark Keane (pictured) has plans for incorporating business and entrepreneurial skills into fourth-level research.

Colleges like Stanford in the US spawned tech giants Yahoo! and Google. Are Irish universities capable of this?
That’s a very challenging area and if you look at somewhere like Stanford, it takes a long time. You start seeing some of the benefits five to 10 years down the line. At this point in Ireland we should be starting to see the real fruits of this earlier research investment. We should be seeing more invention disclosure, followed by patenting, licensing and campus spinouts around that intellectual property [IP].

How can universities bring an idea from research into a viable business model?
One of the changes in the past few years is structured PhD programmes. In the past you just did your thesis, but now there are elements of a US model where there are taught courses. From January, UCD will have courses on IP and entrepreneurialism. The idea is to give people room to take the ideas they have and go out directly and start companies with those ideas.

What about someone who has not taken the PhD route and has an innovative business idea?
If you look at places like NovaUCD, they are not just incubation places for university spinouts but for spin-ins as well. Some 30-40pc of the companies have come into NovaUCD to use it as an environment to grow in. It is currently at 90pc capacity. One idea we have is Belfield Innovation Park: the idea is to try to put more buildings on campus that would enable companies to be on site and have those sorts of interactions.

IDA Ireland has talked about the country as a hub for IP. What does this mean for business and academia?
There are many reasons why the IDA wants to encourage farming of IP. Firstly, there are tax breaks for having IP units in Ireland. Also, it essentially means situating the ideas part of a business in the country and that is better obviously for growing R&D here in Ireland.

As VP of innovation for UCD what goals have you set for the next five years?
We want to develop the innovation park idea in a big way, which involves putting more businesses on campus. Also, we have very specific targets around Enterprise Ireland and the production of patents that I want us to meet.

By Marie Boran

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