By Tonia Devon, Ph.D., Rustum Roy, Ph.D.
State programs in science and technology in the late seventies and eighties were largely responses by governors to the steady downturn in the manufacturing sector of the economy, which in the northeast had become a serious problem. They were also responding to international competition and the perception that the employment base needed to be channelled into new directions. One element in the responses of states was to try to promote new business and industry, and one element of that response was to attempt to stimulate the transfer of outcomes of academic research into the market. There are many steps in the commercialization of academic research, and most of those steps are in the control of industry and business. However, it was thought that more university-industry coupling would help the economy. In addition, university administrators perceived that new linkages with industry could be both good public relations (especially useful when state university presidents go to legislatures for funding) and shore up flagging university funding with additional outside resources. Both federal and state governments designed programs in an attempt to create a more diverse, innovative economy through partnerships between university research and industry. The buzzwords “high-tech,” “chip technology,” “biotechnology,” and “computer software” were repeated somewhat like a religious incantation with no analysis of how knowledge is transformed into products. By the mid-eighties a variety of initiatives were underway in most states.
This study focuses on Wisconsin university models for assisting state industry. The sample includes the Dairy Center at Madison as well as four of the five engineering schools of the state: UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee, Milwaukee School of Engineering, and Marquette University. In addition, the study includes five organizations set up to facilitate linkages between business/industry/faculty or to aid in some aspect of technology transfer. They are: University-Industry Research Program, Madison; Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, Madison; Research Park, Madison; the Office of Industrial Research and Technology Transfer, Milwaukee; and the Medical College of Wisconsin Research Foundation.
In discussing and evaluating the attributes of these arrangements to promote university industry linkages, we include comparative data from other states and from federal programs, where relevant. Research parks and incubators are also discussed in comparative perspective.
Finally, the study addresses several questions that are troublesome whenever the subject of “university-industry” relations is examined and gives some of the major conclusions from the literature, as well as our own, on those questions.