Colleges must learn to sell research, says ISA

16 Mar 2004

The Irish Software Association (ISA) has called for an action plan that would help identify successful models for commercialising research from third level institutions. The ISA said such a move would be crucial if the Irish €1.3bn software sector was to remain a serious competitor in the global software development market.

At an open forum on commercialising IP last night in Dublin, it was revealed that there is very little effective collaboration between the Irish software sector and third level institutions.

Bernadette Cullinan, chief operating officer of Performix Technologies believes there is a tremendous opportunity to sharpen Ireland’s competitiveness and to generate research that is commercially viable. “The software sector is seeking a way for effective and commercially viable management of intellectual property rights creation between the industry and the third level sector.”

“Currently €2.5bn of the National Development Project is spent on research and 50pc of the SFI’s €646m research funding is going to software research,” said John Shiel, chairperson of the Irish Software Association competitiveness sub-committee.

“The fact is it is difficult to identify a company with more than 10 employees that has emerged from a university, which strongly suggests that the current model is broken. Ireland needs to see a tangible benefit from this R&D investment and there is an appetite on all sides to develop a working model of research collaboration that will produce commercially viable software innovation. The ISA will work to develop a proposed model that will address these issues,” Shiel said.

Shiel’s colleague, Kathryn Raleigh, director of the ISA, said that it was imperative that Ireland establishes itself as the most intellectual property (IP) rights-friendly country with very low barriers to technology transfer and commercial exploitation within Ireland.

Cullinan cited existing models of collaboration in the US and UK such as those of Yale, CalTech, Georgia Tech and Cambridge. Doing so, she said, will help dissolve some of the sticking points that have hindered collaboration in Ireland to date, such as different infrastructures and research objectives.

Professor Kevin Ryan of the University of Limerick pointed out that the universities were also willing to collaborate in commercialising IP. He pointed out that what has hampered progress so far is the misunderstanding between the industry and academia on use of research and goals.

“As a country that is hugely dependent on software for its prosperity, Ireland must invest in leading edge software research,” said Ryan. “We can no longer be driven by the EU agenda or purely by the interests of academics. Instead, with the help of SFI and other funding bodies, we can develop a software research culture that will be far-sighted yet reflective of the long term interests of the Irish software industry.”

Bernadette Cullinan agreed that misunderstandings between the two entities need to be overcome. “There is a perception within the industry that it is extremely difficult to work with the third level sector effectively, largely due to the organisational structure within the university sector including little incentive for university staff to undertake research. There is little professional reward in the third level sector for jointly funded research,” she said.

All present at the debate agreed that for Ireland to remain competitive and to achieve scale in research and development, an effective alignment between industry and academia is paramount.

Present on the night was Alistair Glass, director of ICT at Science Foundation Ireland. He said: “Around the world nations are exploring how to obtain greater economic return from their research investments. In Ireland, the Science Foundation Ireland believes that research efficiency is greatly enhanced by close intellectual partnership between industry and academic researchers.”

“Industry informs academia about the critical science and engineering issues which must be overcome to realize product roadmaps, while academic researchers inform industry about new scientific breakthroughs and opportunities for economic growth. This relationship is the critical element in rapid technology transfer. SFI has launched several programmes to fund such partnerships in areas of biotechnology and information and communications technology which underpin the Irish economy,” Glass concluded.

By John Kennedy