For developed countries, continuous innovation has been a prerequisite for economic growth for some time. Because radical innovations often require considerable slack and freedom in researching the relevant underlying phenomena, universities are considered the primary loci for generating knowledge leading to radical leaps in the development of platforms on which future technologies build. Thus, to facilitate the improvement of premises for university research and its application in industry, much effort has been spent on understanding university innovation processes and the transfer of technology between universities and companies. Much of the research and the related discussions have been conducted on either the national, regional or organizational levels. The focus on institutional actors has largely orphaned another fundamentally important actor : the individual researcher. This report examines individual university researchers and their role in the commercialization of research in Finland.
Based on a survey of roughly 2800 researchers active in different fields of science at 11 Finnish research universities, this report covers a variety of topics ranging from university-industry collaboration to ownership of intellectual property and the commercialization services provided to researchers. The primary theme uniting these topics, however, is the subjective motivation for researchers to engage in the commercialization of their research. Why do researchers cooperate with companies, and how do they expect to benefit from collaboration? What are the reasons why some researchers to commercialize their results, while others distance themselves from such endeavors? Do certain dedicated university services support researchers in their commercial ambitions or actually inhibit them? These are the specific questions this report seeks to descriptively answer.
The results establish that commercial motives play only a minor role in the various activities in which researchers engage. For instance, potential commercial aspects have almost no impact on the choice of a researchers research orientation. Furthermore, direct industrial collaboration is relatively uncommon among researchers. Even those researchers that have experience with industry collaboration reported that collaboration mostly serves academic ends such as securing research funding and searching for new research ideas. In addition, only 10% of all researchers have received complementary business education. Given that approximately 40% of researchers are believed to have produced inventions with commercial potential, 10% seems a fairly small share. This is also reflected in the researchers clear lack of familiarity with the principles that govern the allocation of ownership rights to inventions that arise from academic research, a prerequisite to any commercial endeavors.
In parallel with these findings, the propensity of researchers to commercialize their results is much less affected by economic factors such as potential economic returns than it is by altruistic, socio-cultural, or personal motives. This makes designing proper incentive mechanisms difficult. The three most important factors mentioned by inventors who have made the decision to facilitate the commercialization of their inventions include (i) the inventions potential to have a beneficial impact on society, (ii) the researchers ambition of self-fulfillment and (iii) securing funding for academic research. Societal goals and reasons related to pure intrinsic ambition seem to dominate other motives. It seems that commercialization and related economic aspects bear little value to researchers.
Regarding support in commercialization, Finnish researchers are quite satisfied with the services provided to them by their respective research and innovation service units. Only a closer look at the possible needs of researchers and the degree that the service units match these needs through services reveals the true challenges regarding the operation of the units. In fact, the match between needs and provided services seems to be rather weak, and many researchers indicate that they do not need most of the services in the first place. This leads to only one conclusion : the service units are not an integral part of the university culture as yet. Being satisfied with services that do not match needs tells us that researchers have not yet embraced such services as a relevant part of their work or of the technology transfer process. To remedy this situation, much emphasis needs to be put on communicating the range of available services to the research community. This is a first step. The second step would be to design a set of services that address the true needs and ambitions of researchers and provide proper incentives for researchers to participate in the transfer of their research results.